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A Multitude of Virtues:
A brief essay about A Multitude of Sins, by Richard Ford

While the stories contained in Richard Ford’s third collection, A Multitude of Sins (London: Harvill, 2001), revisit themes and situations found in the previous two, their treatment shows much development. One notes that Ford is applying to the short story form the lessons he learned in the Frank Bascombe novels, and that he has outlived his companionship with Carver and Wolff. The collections show deep psychological insight worked into tales of the utmost simplicity: in ‘Privacy’ the narrator is aroused by the sight of a woman undressing in the window opposite his own, until he realises that she is old; in ‘Reunion’ he has a brief, embarrassing encounter with the man he cuckolded some years ago.

One also finds a linking theme in this collection, nascent in these opening stories and fully developed in ‘Abyss,’ the last. Ford's heroes are faced with difficult choices of moral engagement and loyalty. Wales, the protagonist of ‘Quality Time’ witnesses a road death in the rush hour traffic, but drives away, and does not even tell his mistress how the incident has distressed him. In ‘Abyss,’ a man and a woman, both married, decide to visit the Grand Canyon together while at a business conference and on Company time. The woman falls over the edge of the canyon and is killed, and the man must choose whether to drive back to the conference without saying anything, or to report the incident and suffer the consequences to his marriage and career. As a road story, ‘Abyss’ echoes his earlier stories, ‘Rock Springs’ and ‘Jealous,’ and Ford is still concerned by the moral and emotional abyss which afflicts American life, and over which the hero’s decision triumphs.

One story is less successful. ‘Calling’ revisits the relationship between estranged father and son which Ford has already examined many times, and which now seems stale. But the stories are a triumph of the form, subtle, simple and profoundly moving, and a significant development of his earlier work. They are pieces I myself can only love and aspire to.

Cover of A Multitude of Sins, by Richard Ford

I am the author of three short story collections. Reasoning and For His Warriors, originally published by Gwasg y Bwthyn, Caernarfon, with Welsh Books Council support, now join Prayer at the End in revised editions at Cockatrice Books. My anthology of fiction, Dangerous Asylums: Stories from Denbigh Mental Hospital Told by Leading Welsh Writers, including work by Gee and David Williams, Glenda Beagan, Carys Bray, Simon Thirsk and others, was published by the North Wales Mental Health Research Project, October 2016.

I am the translator of Going South: The Stories of Richard Hughes Williams (Cockatrice, 2015), Hallowe’en in the Cwm: The Stories of Glasynys (Cockatrice, 2017), and A Book of Three Birds, the seventeenth-century classic by Morgan Llwyd (Cockatrice, 2017). In addition, I have translated fiction by D. Gwenallt Jones, Angharad Tomos, and Manon Steffan Ros.