Displaced by Richard Ford, 2018
The magic trick:
Sharing a character portrait through the eyes of a narrator who doesn’t lean one way in judgment too far in any direction
This is well-trod ground for Richard Ford – boys figuring out what it is to be a man relative to a problematic or absent father. But it’s ground pleasantly well-trod. I found that after months of mostly uninspiring new fiction in my life, this felt like a welcome return to an older mode that soars on the sheer merit of its execution. Who needs innovation?
The story thrives because of its narrator, a 16-year-old boy whose mourning of his father’s recent death has taken the form of numb blankness. He feels displaced, hollow. He’s sad, but in an effort to keep the emotions under control, he doesn’t really get too worked up about much of anything.
The result is the perfect lens through which we get to know Niall, the narrator’s neighbor and, in some ways, friend. His point of view frames our feelings about the kid. He admires him. He’s grateful for him. He’s skeptical of him. He distrusts him. But none of those feelings bleed into the red. He’s mostly even-keeled about it all.
So then are we. We’re not scared of him, but neither are we enamored of him.
t’s an interestingly beige portrait of a character who we sense is probably far more interesting than we’re giving a chance to see.
And that’s quite a trick on Ford’s part.
I admired how Niall went about things—in his smooth way. Driving with his elbow out the window, using the steering-wheel knob, his cigarette tilted out. I liked that he didn’t mind driving the taxi to the movie, and that he’d arranged it with my mother and made an impression that might even have altered how she thought about me. I liked that I felt detached now from my difficulties—school and my misery about my father, and not knowing how to overcome bad feelings. Niall took life in his stride and seemed purposeful—whether it was being forced to leave home when he didn’t want to, or encountering hures in the middle of the night, or lying his way into the drive-in. He had a natural understanding of what stood right in front of him. It was a better way to approach the world than always having to be right and somebody else be wrong—which was how my mother saw life and wanted me to be the same.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.