Richard Ford and the Fall of America

By Shechner, Mark | Tikkun, March 1996 | Go to article overview

Richard Ford and the Fall of America

Shechner, Mark, Tikkun

Independence Day, by Richard Ford. Alfred A. Knopf. 451 pp. $24.

If we are in fact living through one of the great flowerings of American social fiction, as I believe we are, is it not strange that we are hard-pressed to single out those novels that sum up the era or to anoint one or two signature writers as our laureates Consider this representative list of the social novelists who are currently out there and more or less actively writing. In no particular order, they are: Dorothy Allison, Barbara Kingsolver, Madison Smartt Bell, William Kennedy, Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, E. Annie Proulx, Tim O'Brien, Bobbie Ann Mason, Jayne Ann Phillips, Richard Ford, Robert Olin Butler, Thomas McGuane, Amy Tan, Russell Banks, Robert Stone, Richard Russo, Louis Begley, Jane Smiley, Richard Price, Tom Wolfe, Norman Rush, John Edgar Wideman, Charles Johnson, Leslie Marmon Silko, and James Welch.

And yet, who among these or among the previous generation of writers could be thought the defining writer of our day, the Twain, the Melville, the Dreiser, the Hemingway? Philip Roth John Updike? Tom Wolfe? The Nobel Laureates, Saul Bellow and Toni Morrison? I would be hesitant to say so, though maybe such a foreshortening of statures is only the normal distortion of perspective that prevents us from seeing greatness plain when it is so close at hand. But, for the moment, it does seem we are not quite in a golden age of fiction. I don't think it unreasonable, however, to take this for a silver age, with gifted and ambitious writers in abundance and a body of work that, collectively, will hold its head up with that of any era, including the American Renaissance, or the spasm of modernism that gripped literature just after World War I, or the age of Bellow-Styron-Mailer-Baldwin-Capote, which is now ending.

In short supply is the great tragic theme. Tragedies on the epic scale--the Russian, the Jewish, the Polish, the Rwandan scale--haven't befallen the United States since the Civil War. If there is any note we find it unnatural to strike, it is the note of utter ruin and, with it, the pity and terror that come from knowing how easily we slip into savagery. This absence of a single national tragedy has undoubtedly sharpened the profile of minority writers, African-American and Native-American in particular, whose tragic histories remain livid in memory and inscribed in the ongoing crises in their cultures. Such writers seem paradoxically to be privileged with catastrophic histories, much as, two generations ago, Jewish writers once appeared to be privileged by the Holocaust. Toni Morrison is not the most writerly author in America, but it was not for her mastery of the formal tools of fiction that she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1993. It was in recognition of her stubborn engagement with slavery, one of the black chapters in American history. When her novel Beloved was published in 1987, there may have been a dozen other novels to stand alongside it in terms of writing alone, but scarcely any touched similar bottom in the nightmare of history.

But what, we may ask, are other writers doing for bedrock while the African- and Native-Americans are exhuming their histories? Are all others consigned to the minor leagues of the merely individual or purely anecdotal, being connected to no major horror save those they can work up by research--as Madison Smartt Bell has just done with All Souls' Rising, his novel of the slave rebellion in Haiti-or conjure up out of the collective unconscious, where Dracula, Freddie, and velociraptor are alive and well, and evil is just greasepaint and spirit gum and film noir lighting]

I would suggest that al American writers share a certain bad news in common, news bad enough to be the great subject of our time: the decline and fall of America, and if it is not always there as a theme, it seems to be everywhere as a gray nimbus of foreboding. One sees writers either captive to the temper of decline or trying to tame it into material. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Richard Ford and the Fall of America


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.