Being Irish, declares one character in Richard Ford’s Sorry for Your Trouble, shortly before she commits suicide, is ‘an underlying condition. A common and dismal accident of origin that foretold a mediocre end.’ Ford makes a great effort to prove this thesis in his new collection of nine stories, in which he charts the often disappointing codas of life with his typically disciplined command of English.
Ford’s characters, mostly émigrés to America of Irish stock, are moderate successes. They live in affluent retirement, seeming to occupy half of the holiday homes in coastal Maine. They can look back on well-paid if unexceptional careers in the law. But we find this clutch of sad over-fifties meeting up with old flings, dwelling on the deaths of spouses and wrapping up tortuous divorce settlements. Sorry for Your Trouble is peppered with the preoccupations of age: cancer, strokes, bereavement and loneliness. And while the collection, which broadly investigates the relationships between men and women, is full of sex, we usually see people turning it down rather than seeking it out.
The men are slightly dull; they have more than a passing interest in literature, but one they only make time for in the long days of retirement. The women are, in Ford’s words, ‘minor exotics’ – they read Icelandic sagas, Neruda and the New