In a four-decade career that includes a Pulitzer Prize and an impressive body of critically acclaimed novels and short stories, Richard Ford has never produced a work of nonfiction. With Between Them, a tender, deeply appreciative memoir of his parents, he impeccably remedies that gap in his résumé. What’s most extraordinary about these concise reminiscences—his mother’s written after her death of cancer in 1981 and his father’s some 55 years after the heart attack that killed him in 1960—is how Ford transmutes the utterly ordinary lives they describe into art.
When Arkansas natives Parker Carrol Ford and Edna Akin met in a Hot Springs, Arkansas, grocery store in 1927, perhaps they envisioned lives of excitement and great accomplishment. They certainly never anticipated the 16 years it would take their only child to arrive. They passed those 16 years in a pleasant, nomadic life; Parker was a traveling salesman for a laundry starch manufacturer in seven Southern states, and Edna was his traveling companion.
In recounting the quotidian details of his family’s life—the purchase of a new car or a first house in the suburbs—Ford makes little attempt to invest those events with any larger significance, but his gentle stories of his life in Jackson, Mississippi, are suffused with gratitude. “I was fortunate to have parents who loved each other and, out of the crucible of that great, almost unfathomable love, loved me,” he recalls. “The fact that lives and deaths often go unnoticed has specifically inspired this small book about my parents and set its task,” Ford writes. His parents would be proud of the honor he’s paid in this work to their humble, decent lives.