Birnbaum talks with James Wood and Wood offers possibly one of the most astute explanations for why Richard Ford’s short stories pale in comparison with his novels: “I found too often that Ford relies on a moment of male violence to create the form to his stories, to close them off. Somebody hitting somebody. The last one that was in the New Yorker, somebody driving their car over a—I suppose the Chekhovian ideal, it’s not quite that nothing should happen in a story because actually Chekhov’s stories are full of deaths and births and all sorts of tragedies. I’ll put it this way: When Virginia Woolf read Chekhov she said something like, ‘The emphasis falls on such unexpected places so that you hardly realize that it is an emphasis at all.’ And that’s what I very much love about Chekhov is this extraordinary subtlety and unpredictability. That the sentimental moment [pauses] is always avoided, just at the last second. So I find in Ford’s stories the emphasis falls too sharply and obviously, often on violence. But he is a fine writer, there is no doubt about that.”
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