“Sorry for Your Trouble” is a collection of nine short stories by one of my favorite authors, Richard Ford. In each story there is some connection to Ireland and there is always a lawyer. Most of the stories involve a man in late middle age who has a connection to New Orleans or some other town in Louisiana. And each story has an existential end of life feel to it.
In the first story, “Nothing to Declare”, Sandy McGuiness is 54 years old, a lawyer and sitting in a bar with some of his law partners. There is a woman present who he finally recognizes as a woman he spent a week with in Iceland when he was in college. McGuiness is married now, but goes on a walk with the woman where they speak in fragments. She means nothing to him and he ponders what that means. “As his father had said, we have little to pride ourselves in. Which argued for nothing in particular, yet would allow a seamless carrying forward into the evening now, and the countless evenings that remained.”
In “Displaced”, 16 year old Henry Harding’s father has died and his school mates treat him as though he is invisible. He and his mother live alone and across the street from their house is a boarding house filled with characters, including the MacDermott family, from Ireland. Mr. MacDermott drives a cab. Their son, Niall, is a year older than Henry and their daughter younger. Niall and Henry strike up a tense friendship and at Henry’s mother’s urging, Niall takes Henry to a drive in movie. The experience is peculiar, to say the least. Niall ultimately returns to Ireland. Henry realizes that life is much more complex than what appears on the surface.
In “The Crossing”, a newly divorced attorney, originally from Louisiana, is on the ferry near Dublin. He sees a group of American women on the ferry and begins reminiscing about his failed marriage. He believes the marriage started to fail when he and his wife witnessed a child hit by a bus. “A moment can come from nowhere and life is reframed. Stupid. But we all know that it can.” One of the women approaches him and he tells her of his divorce and sheds a tear.
One of the more disturbing stories (and to be honest, they are all a tad depressing) is “The Run of Yourself”. In this story, Peter Boyce, an attorney from New Orleans, is renting a small house in Maine for a month. He and his wife, Mae (originally from Ireland), rented a different house in Maine each year, where Mae had committed suicide. Peter spends a great deal of time thinking about Mae and having unnatural encounters. At the end of the book, he allows a young woman he does not know to spend an evening in the house (it is not salacious if you were wondering). “He wished he had something to tell her. Call upon his years and years of legal experience. But he had nothing. Life, he thought, would now be this—possibly even for a long while—a catalog. This, and then this, and then this, and then this…”
The last and longest story, “Second Language” involves Jonathan Bell, from Chicago and Charlotte Porter. Charlotte Porter, a realtor, had been married to Francis Dolan for many years, until he decided he wanted to restore a wooden boat and sail it to Ireland. He never returned. Jonathan’s wife of many years died of cancer and Jonathan, an extremely wealthy gas and oil man, pulled up stakes and moved to Manhattan. Jonathan met Charlotte when she was showing him a property and three months later they were married. But after two years, and maintaining separate residences at Charlotte’s suggestion, Charlotte simply decides they should no longer be married. She realizes that Jonathan wants a deep intimate connection and that she is simply satisfied to just be. For Charlotte, life was like a surface. “Life was that and only that. A surface. That was what you could rely on it to be.” But Jonathan was different. “Jonathan was a man who apparently believed in greater and greater closeness, of shared complications, of difficult to overcome frictions leading to even deeper depths of intimacy and knowledge of each other.” They split up and then a couple of years later, Charlotte asks Jonathan to go with her to visit her mother in Hospice. While they are there Charlotte’s mother dies and basically the story ends.
Richard Ford is a wonderful writer and each story is beautifully told. As a reader, he makes you feel each character’s personalities, both their flaws and their positive attributes. This is Richard Ford’s strength. But beware, these stories are not cheerful and the general theme is that life is what it is and then it is over. You can reserve this collection at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.