Richard Ford and the Ends of Realism examines the work of award-winning American novelist and short story writer Richard Ford, and places it firmly in the context of contemporary debates about the role and meaning of literary realism in a postmodern environment. In this fresh study of Ford’s oeuvre, Ian McGuire argues that Ford’s work is best understood as a form of pragmatic realism and thus positions him as part of a deeply rooted and ongoing American debate about the nature of realism and pragmatism. This debate, which reaches back to transcendentalist thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and continues on to today, questions the meaning of independence and the relationship between the self and history. In this context, McGuire explores Ford’s deep engagement with American literary and philosophical traditions and repositions his work in its appropriate intellectual and literary context.

McGuire also uses this idea of pragmatic realism to mount a larger defense of contemporary realist writing and uses Ford’s example to argue that realism itself remains a useful and necessary critical category. Contemporary realism, rather than being merely conventional or reactionary, as some of its critics have called it, can offer its proponents an aesthetically and philosophically sophisticated way of engaging with and contesting the particularities of contemporary, even postmodern, experience.

In offering this new reading of Richard Ford’s fiction, as well as a fresh understanding of the realist impulse in contemporary American fiction, both become richer, more resonant, and more immediate—reaching both backward into the past and forward to involve themselves in important contemporary debates about history, postmodernity, and moral relativism.

"John Keating is the perfect narrator for this story...It is by itself a compelling tale; Keating's performance gives it another dimension and makes it riveting."--AudioFile Magazine

"The North Water...is a great white shark of a book — swift, terrifying, relentless and unstoppable."
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Riveting and darkly brilliant....The North Water feels like the result of an encounter between Joseph Conrad and Cormac McCarthy in some run-down port as they offer each other a long, sour nod of recognition.”
—Colm Toibin, The New York Times Book Review

"[An] audacious work of historical suspense fiction...It's the poetic precision of McGuire's harsh vision of the past that makes his novel such a standout...absolutely transporting."
—Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

A nineteenth-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp, and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.

Behold the man: stinking, drunk, and brutal. Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaler bound for the rich hunting waters of the arctic circle. Also aboard for the first time is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money, and no better option than to sail as the ship's medic on this violent, filthy, and ill-fated voyage.

In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop. He had hoped to find temporary respite on the Volunteer, but rest proves impossible with Drax on board. The discovery of something evil in the hold rouses Sumner to action. And as the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter, the fateful question arises: who will survive until spring?

With savage, unstoppable momentum and the blackest wit, Ian McGuire's The North Water weaves a superlative story of humanity under the most extreme conditions.

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