Monday, May 28, 2012
Book Review: "Canada" by Richard Ford
With those words, Richard Ford's weighty but superb new book, Canada, begins. Fifteen-year-old Dell Parsons, and his twin sister, Berner, are living in Great Falls, Montana, in 1960. Their father, Bev, was an affable Air Force pilot with ambition and dreams that were as wide-open as his personality, while their mother, Neeva, is his complete opposite: intelligent, sarcastic, fiercely devoted to hoping her children have a better life than the one she felt forced into. After Bev leaves the Air Force, he bounces from job to job, and finds himself embroiled in criminal scheme after criminal scheme, although he considers himself more of a middleman than a criminal. And when one scheme goes awry, Bev and Neeva decide to rob a bank in a small North Dakota town. Of course, their seemingly foolproof plan doesn't work out in the end, and the two are arrested, leaving Dell and Berner alone.
After Berner runs away rather than face the prospects ahead of her, Dell is spirited away by a friend of his mother's to a drab, prairie town in Saskatchewan, across the Canadian border. There Dell becomes the ward (of sorts) of Arthur Remlinger, an enigmatic, moody, and quirky American who owns a run-down hotel. While Dell tries to figure out what his life will become in Canada, and hopes that Remlinger will be the key to a brighter future, he starts to realize that Remlinger, much like his parents, is not the person he thinks he is. And as Dell is used as a pawn in Remlinger's efforts to protect himself, it is another moment that sets Dell on a path toward a life different than the one he imagined for himself, one in which he realizes he is the only person he can count on.
Like the Montana and Saskatchewan landscapes in the book, Canada is a bleak story. But while you know from the very first lines of the book about the bank robbery and murders that will take place, Richard Ford unfurls the plot little by little. This is a very introspective story, as Dell is disappointed by those in whom he puts his faith and trust, but it is ultimately hopeful as well, because he is able to take these life-changing moments in stride. Ford is a fantastic storyteller and no stranger to books in which the main character is faced with crisis after crisis, yet Canada is never a chore to read. I found myself marveling at Ford's language and wondering exactly how he would tie all of the ends of his story together. The book has a lot of weight (and it is about 450 pages) but it is both compelling and well-written.