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Interview: Jeffrey Ford on “Thanksgiving”

Tell us a bit about “Thanksgiving.”

“Thanksgiving” is a story about this couple that has had Thanksgiving dinner at their house for a bunch of people going back more than 15 years. In recent years they’ve given up on the huge dinners, feeding 40 people, and cut back just to themselves, another couple who are their closest friends, the woman host’s mother, and Uncle Jake. A few years after they quit the big dinners, on Thanksgiving, after the meal, and after Uncle Jake heads off into the night, sitting around drinking coffee, the hosts and remaining guests realize that no one actually knows whose uncle Uncle Jake is.

 

What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

My brother and sister-in-law had a party every year for St. Patrick’s Day on top of a mountain in Arizona. They fed half the town. I think the party lasted 25 years. I met a lot of people there. I met the woman who was the voice for Sally in the Peanuts cartoons. I met painters and writers and plumbers. Recently my in-laws decided to bag it. Who can blame them. That was part of what got me started, I’d just returned to Ohio from the last of those giant parties.

And… I went to the wedding for the kid across the road recently. He mowed our lawn for years. Many acres and he always did a great job. He got married and my wife and I were invited. We drove way out into the farmland to this big Indian lodge like pavilion where they held the wedding. The place was packed with people. There were hundreds. I saw the groom’s dad go by in the crowd. I’ve known him for a while. I said to him, “Ya got a lot of people here. Are a lot from your work at the firehouse (he’s a fireman)?” He smiled and shook his head. He said, “I don’t know who any of these people are. I might know thirty people here he said. Then the crowd drew him on and he was soon out of sight.

Those two incidents came together.

 

Why do you write?

Having an art to practice and ponder for an entire life is one of the luckiest things. I do love it.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

This question is too vast to answer efficiently, so I’ll tell you one thing I’ve started doing lately. I get up very early in the morning, and I turn on all the lights in the kitchen, and even though the weather is cold, I open the sliding door and just use the screen. I put on a sweatshirt and get a big mug of coffee. Then I sit down at the kitchen counter and read for an hour in Book 1 of The Story of the Stone. The first book I read in this manner was Orlando Furioso book 1. While I read, I can hear the wind blowing dead leaves across the yard and the distant dinging of the jeweled wren wind chime in the pear tree at the front of the house. I’ve decided to dedicate this time to big slow old books. Next up, is the first book of the 3-book set of The Arabian Nights, Penguin edition. Somewhere along the line, I’ll get back to books 2 and 3 of the Arabian Nights, books 2 thru 6 of Story of the Stone, etc. No rush. I’m going to take my time and let it all slowly blend into one big story I can’t remember the beginning or end of.

 

“Thanksgiving” appears in the November/December 2018 issue of F&SF.

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