It's lunchtime now, so Ford heads over to Clarksdale to check on one of his old haunts, a downhome spot with pitchers of sweet tea the size of oil barrels. He hasn't been here in more than 20 years, but he immediately runs into an old duck-hunting buddy named Alcorn Russell. Russell spends the next 45 minutes holding forth on local gossip, the auto-repair business, and the 12-point buck he recently shot with a pistol while sitting on his front porch. Finally, he gets up to pay his bill. "I haven't seen Alcorn since 1986, but I walk in here and we're completely simpatico," Ford says. "Now let's beat it out of here before he comes back."
Ford spends the rest of the afternoon running a few errands: checking out bikes at the Harley dealership, picking up some dog medicine at the vet.
It's nothing too exciting, which is kind of the point. Ford's books are about the little moments between the big moments – the mundanities that make up 99 percent of life. Canada, his seventh novel, is no exception: It tells the story of a 15-year-old Montana boy named Dell Parsons who is shipped off to Saskatchewan after his parents rob a bank. The book shivers with sadness and unexpected violence but mainly conveys finely wrought observations about what it means to grow up.
Ford writes about relationships and domesticity in a way that's tough but never hard. The irony, of course, is that, although his stories are littered with the wreckage of failed relationships, his own marriage is almost absurdly happy – the kind of partnership of equals you usually see only in Hepburn-Tracy movies. They review each other's work – Kristina, a city-planning professor, is one of the country's foremost experts on urban development – and call each other pet names (Baby, Darling, Sweetheart, Dear). They decided early on never to have kids, because it might interfere with their lives together. "We're more like playmates," Ford says. "All the good things that have happened to me happened because of her."
These days, the Fords are based in Maine, where they've lived since 2000 – the longest they've ever been in one place. They have a Cape Cod house in a little lobstering town called East Boothbay. Nearby is a boathouse with a nice view of the harbor where Ford drafts his stories longhand with a blue Pilot pen. (He keeps the pages in the freezer, in case of fire; there are some in there now, next to some birds he shot.)
"I love Maine," Ford says. "I think one way or another, we'll live out our days there."
Ford jokes that he's reached "a certain dawning adulthood – just in time to die."
He once said his dream was to be able to write three months a year and live his life the other nine, and by this point, he's gotten pretty close, having figured out the things that make him happiest and organizing his life around those things. "It's about what it always has been," he says. "Bird hunting, riding motorcycles, playing squash. Other than that, it's just Kristina and whatever I call 'work.' "
The sun is dipping low on the horizon now. We get back to the house, and Kristina is fixing cocktails in a red dress and heels, looking better than a woman born during the Truman administration has any business looking. They have a dinner date with the Howorths, at a tapas place that Ford keeps calling "topless." PBS NewsHour is on, and the couple's three Brittany spaniels, Chloe, Lewy, and Scooter, are playing in the den. It's the kind of home that a man like Ford would be happy to come home to. And he is.