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on April 13, 2002
Richard Ford is undoubtedly one of America's finest authors. More than any other writer today, he has a special gift for creating characters with undeniable humanity. In this new collection of short stories, not his best work but excellent nonetheless, each character feels truly genuine, with human flaws and weaknesses that we all can relate to. Infidelity and its consequences is the main theme here, and Ford explores it with all the grace, subtlety, and compassion that readers have come to expect from him. The stories, for the most part, focus on everyday occurrences; Ford's work rarely relies on intriguing plot twists, but rather profound explorations of emotion and the human experience. In "Reunion," inspired by a John Cheever story, a man encounters the husband of a woman with whom he briefly had an affair, and stumbles through an awkward yet revealing conversation, set in the middle of Penn Station. In "Under the Radar," a woman admits to her husband that she had a brief affair with the host of a dinner party they are on their way to attend. In "Privacy," a man takes stock of his marriage after finding himself drawn to his neighbor, whose nude figure he views regularly from his apartment window. In each, Ford is deeply interested in the inner motivations of his characters. What makes them love? What makes them cheat? How do they justify their infidelities, both to themselves and their spouses? And how do they ultimately deal with their own guilt and the pain they have caused to those around them? Each of these questions is answered unflinchingly and unapologetically, but with the tenderness and charm for which Richard Ford's prose is well known.
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on August 3, 2002
I usually jump at the opportunity to hear authors read their own works, due in part to curiosity as to what they sound like, but more for the nuances and inflections only they can give to their written words. With that said, I found Mr. Ford's reading of his own short story collections to be a pretty uninspired affair.
Mr. Ford, one of our most celebrated and meticulous authors, is not blessed with a terribly strong reading voice, and he uses an odd, choppy style with numerous inopportune pauses that would indicate (if we didn't know better) unfamiliarity with the stories. I liked Richard Poe's excellend reading of Ford's masterpiece Independence Day much better. Poe breathed a lot more life into the characters.
As for the stories themselves, they were all good, and some were excellent. I really enjoyed Reunion, about a man who stumbles across the husband of a woman he had an affair with, in Grand Central Station, and feels oddly compelled to confront. Our protagonist doens't have anything particular to say to the husband of his former lover, who has slugged him in a hotel in St. Louis, he simply wanted to create an experience where before there was none. Other stories explore similar topics of marital infidelity, and the bitter aftermath of doomed affairs.
I also really liked the story of the young married couple on the way to a dinner party in their Mercedes Benz station wagon, in which the husband is floored by an admission, by his young trophy wife, that she has slept with their dinner party host. His reactions, and the stony silence that develops between them, are indicative of the strained relations between almost every couple in the collection.
My only problem with the stories, after reading about 5-6 of them, is that they are too similar to one another. Ford keeps retreading the same ground, writing about lawyers, realtors, St. Louis and the Mayfair Hotel in a cool, detached third person narrative. After awhile you forget you are reading (or listening to) fictional stories, and almost get a sense you are peeking at notes of a marriage counselor with a clinical sense of detachment. Ford doesn't seem to experiment enough, and sometimes I would get in my car, pop in a tape about unfulfilled 40-ish adulterers, and wonder whether this is the story of the couple in a Canadian hotel, the Connecticut realtors on a business trip to Phoenix, or the Grand Central protagonist reminiscing about his affair at the Mayfair. Each of the stories works well on its own, but reading them back to back you see patterns develop that frankly grow a little tiresome. Read them one or two at a time to enjoy Ford's meticulous prose, and his sharp observations about middle class malaise.
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on February 15, 2002
A Multitude of Sins is a very interesting, somewhat depressing set of stories. Every one of them deals with adultery in one form or another. Sometimes a past adultery informs the plot of the story, sometimes the ending of it is the driving force. None of the stories actually deals with the beginning of it, except in flashback. Many times, the parties involved think back to the beginning and try to figure out what has gone wrong, and why a thrilling, secretive experience has become dull and boring.

The highlight of the novel has to be Abyss, the last story in the book. It's the longest story, and allows Ford to really get into the character of the two protagonists. Again, you see the beginning of their affair in flashback, the sudden spark when they first touch, and the red hot desire when they first truly look into each other's eyes. When the characters are sent to Phoenix for a convention, you see how their feelings have changed as the height of their passion comes crashing down into the dullness of reality and they each see what the other person is really like. Watching this relationship crumble, and then seeing the unexpected (at least to me) resolution to the story, was very intriguing, and made me want to finish the story as soon as possible.

The characters in each story are seekers, in a way. They are all searching for something to make their life complete. They are lost souls, searching for the fulfillment that life should bring, but doesn't always. Having an affair seems to them, at first, to fill that gap, but it never actually does. That's what makes the stories so depressing, in a way: seeing the fruitless search for life. Only one story has what's even close to a happy ending, and even that happiness is caused by the realization that their marriage is truly over. Most of the stories end with the characters having fallen, picking themselves up and resolving to move on through life's dense fog. A little wiser, perhaps. Or perhaps not. Some people never learn.

Still, depressing or not, I found all of the stories worthwhile to read. From the short vignettes to the longer pieces, each one contained interesting situations, or a nice twist, or even just making a point about life. I can't say I enjoyed the book, but I certainly did find it fascinating. I have never read any of Ford's stuff, but I may have to now that I've read some of his short fiction.
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on July 10, 2002
I am continually astounded and impressed by Richard Ford's writing. "A Multitude of Sins," Ford's latest collection of short stories, cuts open for the reader fresh, bleeding slices of life from a series of marital infidels. Ford's incisive, intuitive skills of observation make you feel free as an invisible molecule of oxygen, permitted access to all of humanity's most private recesses.
Ford paints the interior lives of a series of mostly unhappy mid-Western professionals with the unflinching eye of a truly empathetic artist. This is not an easy read, but it is more than worth your time.
As Ford chronicles the various hurts and pains accumulated by lives not lived fully and the subsequent emotional dead-ends and disappointments that await most would-be escapees, one gets the sense that these stories are not so much about a multitude of sins, as about a single one. The sin of dissatisfaction might very well be an inherent human condition, a kind of original sin. We've all felt dissatisfaction to some degree with love, unfulfilled promise, and the way things are. If dissatisfaction is something we all have to contend with, maybe we can alleviate it by confessing our own versions of dissatisfaction. As Richard Ford's latest collection of stories, "A Multitude of Sins," makes clear, there is nothing like confession to satisfy the soul.
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Richard Ford is a brilliant writer. The "techniques" of writing he has definitely mastered: dramatic tension, foreshadowing, incisive dialogue, et al. But I still recall the remark of a high school physics teacher who said: "I know people who can speak three languages, and have nothing to say in any of them." Ford is NOT one of those. He has the narrative skills, but more importantly, he has so much to say, particularly on the relationship between men and women. Sometimes noble; but all too often, ignoble. Just like in real life. Often there may be that experience that you believe has only occurred to you... and there it is, much more "universal" than you thought, in black and white, described by Ford. I've read most of Ford's works: Independence Day: Bascombe Trilogy (2),The Sports Writer,Rock Springs The Ultimate Good Luck,Wildlife, and Women with Men : Three Stories. There are elements of each of these books in this one, but the subject matter covered most nearly resembles "Women with Men," and "Rock Springs."

This volume is comprised of ten short stories, or, if you will, nine, with the novella, "Abyss." For some reason the publisher started with the weakest, and shortest story, "Privacy," a brief look at the voyeurism fantasy. "Quality Time" concerns an affair with an older, rich woman in the Drake Hotel, in Chicago. "Calling" is primarily set in New Orleans, and involves a duck hunting trip, and the relationship between a coming-of-age son, and his now out-of-the-closet gay father. "Reunion" involves another affair, set in St. Louis, and the subsequent meeting of the husband and lover in Grand Central Station in NYC. "Puppy" is also set in New Orleans, and how an abandoned puppy might threaten a marriage. Doing a "Robert Frost" could become incorporated in your vocabulary after this story. "Crèche" depicts a highly dysfunctional family on a ski trip in upper Michigan, and involves the only story which alludes to a non-consensual consummation of a relationship. "Dominion" is set in Canada; another affair, and a very different twist in the denouement. "Charity" involves a married couple, an ex-police officer and his public defender wife vacationing in Maine, and covers the "mid-life" crisis contemplating how a change in locale might alter their lives. "Abyss" is yet another affair, between a couple married to others. They are both in real estate, a touchstone of Ford in "Independence Day." The "abyss" is the Grand Canyon, which they decide to visit. Metaphorically, of course, the "abyss" is so much more.

Bons Mots? Of course there are more than a few. Consider: "Everyone gets to think he wins, though no one does. That was extremely lawyerly." Or, "Possibilities would diminish. Life would cease to be an open, flat plain upon which you walked with a chosen other, and become instead cluttered, impassable." Or, "It was her doing, she thought; she'd invented him, turned him into someone she had a use for. His real intelligence was not to resist." And, Canada, eh: "It seemed very Canadian. Canada, in so many ways, seemed superior to America anyway. Canada was saner, more tolerant, friendlier, safer, less litigious."

A marvelous, penetrating examination of the complex emotional issues surrounding the transient, or more permanent liaisons among men and women. Richard Ford is one of the very best chroniclers of American life today. 5-stars plus.
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on November 12, 2015
I have never liked short stories. I started reading these bc it was a coffee table book when staying at friends house. First few were good. Enjoyed about 50% of the stories but, remember, I'm not a fan of short stories.
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on July 4, 2013
excellent stories, but what else is new.....Ford is the man in in the new century---walker percy and Phillip roth in one lean and mean passage---but I really want one more ralph bascombe novel....please, please please
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VINE VOICEon December 4, 2002
The stories in A Multitude of Sins really focus on one central sin--adultery. Infidelity and its various facets feature in all of the stories here, but the stories are in no way repetitive. In one story, a man accidentally meets the ex-husband of his former lover in a crowded train station. Another concerns a woman revealing her infidelities to her husband on the way to a dinner party at the ex-lover's house. Each story focuses on different aspects of the effects of infidelity, so in that sense, there are "multitudes" of sins. This is a well-written collection by a talented author.
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on March 12, 2002
Richard Ford is one of my favorite authors. I was hesitant to pick up this book having loved Rock Springs so much. I wasn't sure anything could hold up to that earlier work. This book made me much more appreciative of my good wife and marriage. If a work of fiction changes your outlook on life or causes you to think about your own situations and be glad hasn't it done its job? The stuff Ford writes is important.
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VINE VOICEon June 8, 2005
Insistent and exquisite, Ford gives us a meditation on a theme. Using adultery as a filter, he examines the range of everyday sins that accompany lives unrealized and disconnected. Adultery is the frozen tip, making the movement under the water visible.

This is not the book to look to for big events. The drama largely happens off stage. The moments of violence are dulled-- killing time more than killing each other. It makes for the kind of sinning that you may not expect, but is probably more real to the real lives of people than the more Hollywood variety.

I can understand the criticism of the book, both here and elsewhere. Ford is so interested in the problem that he explores it from every angle and there is a sameness to many of these stories as they seem to conceptually pick up where the others left off. I was fascinated, bored, impatient and finally fascinated again by the project.

I can think of very few writers who are more skilled than Ford. I would recommend this book to virtually anyone who enjoys good prose. Honestly, the novels (Independence Day is my favorite) are probably easier to read, and may serve as a good introduction to the way that the author handles his subject matter.
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