With a depth of perception that’s both affectionate and insightful, Ford tells the stories of his parents’ lives and deaths by turn ... It’s through this innate desire to know, paired with Ford’s exceptional abilities as a prose craftsman, that these two ordinary people are made vital and vivid to us on the page. His depictions and examinations of his parents before and after he was born — their mannerisms and bearings, their wounds and silences, their squabbles and pleasures — offer a master class in character development and narrative economy ... There’s a vulnerability that I’ve not observed in Ford’s work before, a tender surrender to the search. What makes this book so moving is, in part, Ford’s glorious engagement with the unknowable that we, paradoxically, come to memoir for — it’s only in fiction, after all, that a writer has the luxury of omniscience, of being the god of the who, how, when, where, what and why.
The effort to create a presence is signaled by a plethora of conditionals: One paragraph contains the word 'must’ve,' 'might’ve,' and 'could’ve,’ with the emphasis on 'must' indicating how hard the writer is working to give his subject life. It has the effect of making Ford’s portrait of his father more interesting than that of his pretty, lively Catholic mother, even though the details of Edna Ford’s life are much more richly filled in. The book’s most vivid writing imagines what it was like before Ford was born, when Parker and Edna traveled together on the circuit, teaching young women how to make starch and use it ... Between Them is, designedly, not 'great literature,' and is content rather to provide an honest recording of two 'wonderful' if ordinary parents.
Part of the intermittent charm of this memoir is its restoration of that deleted era, a contemplative delving into what now seems antiquity ... At just 175 pages, spattered with 'I don’t know' and 'I’m not sure,' Between Them is a wisp of a book. It 'might seem incomplete or lacking,' Ford says, and it certainly does ... At its strongest, with simply etched sentences and slow stabs of wisdom, this memoir conjures Rock Springs, Ford’s faultless 1987 story collection...At its weakest, though, Ford’s prose mopes with at-hand utterances ... he has attempted a gentle reckoning here, his own exertion of mercy and mourning — his parents breathe in him still — and the attempt alone makes a loving homage.
Between Them is a powerful reckoning with the in-between: the chemistry between two people — man and woman, parent and child — the gap between what we wish we’d done and what we did, and the inexpressible feelings that reside in the space between words.
...[a] deeply moving new memoir ... Ford imbues his writing with love, empathy and an honest striving for the truth, modeling, in a profound way, a method for seeing our parents as clearly as we can ... he succeeded in turning their stories into a loving exploration of a child's relationship to his parents, and to the mysteries that remain despite the closeness of their bonds.
...an exquisitely sensitive double portrait of his parents ... Illustrated with family photographs, Ford’s remembrance of his parents is a masterful distillation of sensuous description, psychological intricacy, social insights, and a keen sense of place. Ford’s reflections are bright with wit, edgy with candor, and lustrous with extraordinary poignancy and love.
...[a] thoughtful but uneven new memoir ... We follow along as the young lovers travel from state to state, but the narrative doesn't really go anywhere. Digressions are made as scores of unanswered questions are posed ... Richard Ford is an extraordinary writer who, it becomes clear, has chosen to write about two rather ordinary people ... Ford’s goal here is noble. He wants us to appreciate that even mundane lives have consequence, but this approach makes for a somewhat middling narrative. There are, however, flashes of brilliance.
Ford’s account of his father’s death is an extraordinary piece of writing. The more so, here, because it leads him in to the story of his mother, told 30 years ago, when that memory was more proximate but maybe less raw. The disjunction creates questions for the reader. Does experience change the ways we remember? ... The act of writing those lives, has been if anything, Ford suggests, less poignant for him than a 'source of immense exhilaration.' His readers, those with parents, and those without them, will feel that too.
In the whole memoir, Mr. Ford relates no conversations with his father. Indeed, he cannot remember the sound of his voice, though he yearns to. In another memoir this might come across as an indictment, but Mr. Ford loved his father and felt that, somehow, his father loved him ... Readers may be tempted to parse this book for clues to Mr. Ford’s fiction, but that would miss the point. 'My parents were, after all, not made of words,' the author writes. He wants to show them to us as they were ... This affecting memoir reflects his quest to reclaim the parents who were possibly happiest before he was placed 'between them.'”
...there is a melancholy cast to these pages, a picture of three people standing just out of reach of one another, alone together, no matter their love. Ford’s portrait of his father is laced with poignancy for a man unable to connect to his son ... In Between Them, he stakes a claim for paying attention, that the most ordinary circumstances sometimes yield the most universal truths.
A lesser writer would milk the trauma. But Ford studiously avoids the word … What he recalls more confidently than episodes are gestures and habits: his father’s hesitant smile, bodily softness, forward-leaning gait and sudden tempers, for instance. Photos help to carry him back in time, and some are reproduced in the book. But neither words nor images can dissolve the mystery of his parents’ otherness … Between Them is as much a reflective essay as a narrative. It’s not that there’s a lack of drama to recount...these episodes are merely noted in passing; he gives more weight to the quieter moments.
...a beguiling little book. Neither straight biography nor intimate expose — Ford has no deep emotional scars to flaunt — it is instead an unapologetic reminiscence that strives to reveal the extraordinary within the ordinary ... While we’ve see versions of Ford’s parents in his stories and novels, to have them here in their own right is thrilling, heartbreaking and ultimately enlivening.
This is a memoir that seems to have been written more for Ford than for his readers, and it reveals as much about the writer as it does about his parents. Neither of these observations implies fault, only that the renowned novelist recognizes how the selection of detail and the limitations of memory inform a narrative and how the writer’s craft inevitably makes the results as much about the writer (and his craft) as his subject ... A subtle, careful testament to devotion and a son’s love for his parents.
Ford vividly and gracefully preserves his memories of parents, his life 'between them,' and the small Southern towns that provided the limits and the possibilities of their lives ... Every page of this little remembrance teems with Ford’s luxuriant prose, his moving and tender longing for his parents, and his affecting and intimate portrait of two people simply living life as best they can as their world changes around them.