Life Designs



Life Designs
Zoland Books, 1997

Life Designs is a richly textured novel detailing the course of one woman’s marriage, the choice between fidelity and betrayal, and the doubts and consequences that choice provokes. Ford skillfully, compellingly unbraids the strands of this woman’s life. The young Meg Mowbry had intelligence and beauty and promise, none of which prepared her for the challenges and reversals of her marriage. Her husband Jim, a young professor who consoled and seduced her while she grieved over her brother’s death in Vietnam, sets out on a promising academic career to which Meg—at first—sacrifices her own ambitions. Soon both their attentions turn to other interests, and other people. Life Designs is a quietly powerful, wholly realistic appraisal of the landscape of American life, and of the sometimes true, sometimes faithless vows of marriage and family.

Praise and Reviews

Life has a way of canceling dreams in Ford’s assured, bittersweet fifth novel… Covering 33 years before closing in 1995, the narrative highlights the missed connections and accidental decisions that determine many fates. Ford relates her tale in brief vignettes, with a lightly ironic touch that encapsulates relationships in a few telling details. It is a tribute to her considerable skill that she is thus able to render the warp and woof of ordinary lives, and the complications that thwart even those intent on fulfilling their own life designs.
Publishers Weekly

Ford (Monkey Bay) returns to Massachusetts for the story of a couple’s serendipitous romantic life—related in skipping-stone style across the decades, and just as refreshingly spare and unsentimental as the author’s four previous novels… As always, the pleasure of Ford’s fiction lies in her refusal to imply more cause-and-effect than exists in the real world. Here, again, her protagonists’ lives drift on the currents of time—a very believable, yet sympathetic, portrait of a modern marriage.
Kirkus Reviews

The power of this novel comes from the realistic portrayal of the daily lives of the characters rather than its few sweet moments. Ford’s fifth novel is recommended for all libraries.
Library Journal

Life Designs by Elaine Ford is a moving short novel about a married couple whose life choices—including their decision to be together—have left neither particularly fulfilled… Ford has a remarkable gift for making the extraordinary out of the ordinary. Under this author’s tender rendering, female and male characters evolve fully as their not-so-perfect selves. Further, she succeeds to create quiet tension throughout the story, which unfolds as a scattering of reflections by varying characters over many years. Life Designs is an intriguing, satisfying weekend read, all in less than 200 pages.
Middlesex News

For those who grew into adulthood in the 1960s and 1970s, Life Designs has a powerful ring of truth. Its story of a marriage unfolding over decades creates a wistful, almost gray novel set in the world of academe… With sympathy and rich detail, Ford traces the strands of these lives from a squalid little apartment in Cambridge, Mass., to the greater comfort of a university professor’s home in New Jersey, and, ultimately, to a Down East saltwater farm. Tragedy keeps its distance for much of the book. Indeed, the majority of its pages could serve as a guide to lives led in quiet desperation. When tragedy does erupt, however, it gives Meg an opportunity, unforeseen, perhaps even unwanted, to come to terms with her life…Life Designs strikes a number of familiar chords in its evolving story of relationships among adults and between adults and children… Life Designs offers an evocative read from an author who deftly weaves carefully chosen details of everyday life into a tapestry that portrays more than the sum of its parts.
Maine Sunday Telegram

Zoland Books of Cambridge, Mass., proves—once again—that small presses publish some of the best contemporary literature. Life Designs is the fifth novel by Elaine Ford, a teacher at the University of Maine in Orono… Readers are fortunate that a publisher like Zoland would present a quiet, oddly structured experiment in perspective like Life Designs… Ford offers a series of vivid close-ups, then pulls back to reveal Life Designs, as structure and content merge.
Concord Monitor and Nashua Telegraph

Elaine Ford is one of the finest practitioners of realistic fiction at work in this country today, and Life Designs is her best novel to date.
–Howard Frank Mosher