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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Piece of My Heart

A Piece of My Heart by Richard Ford

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful:

July 16, 2004

There are a few four-letter words that would fill in the title of this review, but I can't say them on a family-friendly website. I think 'garbage' will suffice. Pointless garbage if you want to be more specific. The only reason it doesn't get 1-star from me is that it's Ford's first novel and I have a tendency to be lenient on debut novels.

The story involves Robard Hewes, the hick living in California, who decides to up and leave his wife to go to Arkansas to find the woman who's been sending him letters for quite some time. There's also (for whatever reason) Sam Newell, a law student in Chicago who's bummed out about life (for whatever reason) and goes to a hunting camp on an island in Mississippi owned by his girlfriend's grandfather. Robard gets a job on that island and at the same time has a brief affair with Buena, the woman who's been writing him and is unhappy with her washed-up career minor league pitcher husband.

Robard was a fun character--gruff, mysterious, and yet driven for some reason to do something even he knew was stupid. I'm not sure why the whole book didn't revolve around him, because Sam Newell served no purpose whatsoever in the story. Ford didn't even bother to follow up on his story, that's how unimportant he was to the plot. Robard is the story, and the point of his story is that sometimes people make dumb choices and have to pay the consequences for them. A good point, but one I already knew from reading Richard Russo's far superior "Nobody's Fool", which I recommend over this.

Mr. Lamb is another interesting character, the wacky old Southern coot with an island not even on the maps. Mr. Lamb pays Robard to drive around and run any poachers off his private kingdom while he goes out fishing with his "telephone", an electrical device that has grave consequences for Mr. Lamb. Mrs. Lamb always had a certain amount of mystery attached to her, because at first she just sits around listening to the radio, but later we find out she handles a lot of the business affairs. TVA is the black servant who would be a horrible racial stereotype except for an undercurrent of resentment towards his employer. Buena is a snotty brat and it soon becomes clear to Robard what me, as the reader, figured out long ago and that is she's not worth crossing the country and risking his life for--Helen of Troy she is not.

I never did quite understand the point of the interludes with Sam and his father. Sam was so unimportant that I'm not sure why bringing up scattered episodes (most little more than a page or a few paragraphs) of selling starch in the South was necessary. It didn't add much in my mind to Sam or to the story in general. Like Sam himself, those episodes could have been done away with.

There are some nice descriptions, but otherwise Ford's writing itself is what brings down this book. For some reason he had a fear of pronouns when writing this book that manifested itself in ambiguous "He"s. For example, Ford might say something like, "Mr. Lamb sprinkled salt on his food. He pushed away from the table." Now you'd think the "he" in the second sentence means Mr. Lamb, since he was the subject of the last sentence, but no, it refers to Robard or Sam, depending on if the part of the book focuses on Robard or Sam. That led me to a lot of confusion and I'm still trying to figure out why an editor didn't take umbrage with it. As with Ford's "The Ultimate Good Luck", I also had trouble following some of the action because the details were sketchy about what was happening, such as how (and why) Sam ended up in the water in the beginning of the story.

I wouldn't recommend this book, because Ford does go on to better things like "The Sportswriter" and the Pulitzer-winning "Independence Day". Those demonstrated how much the author developed as a writer and are much more worthy of your time. However, if you're a fan of Richard Ford, (I'm not) then you'll want to read this as a curiosity to know where the author got his start.

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