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« Doc | Main | Bent Highway: Chapter Two »
Monday
Jul302012

Canada (Richard Ford) review

CanadaCanada by Richard Ford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are looking for a fast paced narrative, full of suspense and robbers on the run (r.o.r. - okay, just made that up), then look elsewhere.
But if you know Ford's elegant, stripped down prose and amazing ability to capture the intricacies of human beings better than any other writer alive (stolen quote form Globe and Mail), and you have the time to immerse yourself in a slow exploration... then this book needs 6 stars, or maybe more.

I know it won't be for everyone - and especially the dismaying amount of readers that want a narrative to drive forward - but this book will ache in my chest long after I have read it. I don't need to give away much in the plot, really there isn't much plot. In 1960, Dell Parson's parents rob a bank, he and his twin sister are set adrift. Berner, his sister, runs to California, Dell is spirited away, pre-911, to cross the border into Canada, and "hide-out" in southwestern Saskatchewan. (Right around where I was born actually). It really isn't a hiding out, but a crossing of a physical border, that parallels the metaphorical border Dell is crossing in his life.

Sure it is a coming of age of sorts - for me it resonates best with Ford's short stories (Rock Springs) and the novella Wildlife, which also has a young person at its centre, and a shares the setting of Great Falls, Montana. It has less in common with the Bascombe books (Independence Day etc., which I have not liked as much.)
But it is much more than a sixteen year old crossing into adulthood. A melancholy pervades the book, at times it's almost too sad to read, as in when the siblings visit their parents in jail. Ford gets inside people, and even if you can't imagine what Dell's life would be like (ie: have never had a parent commit a criminal act and go to jail), you will recognize yourself in there, you will recognize humanity in there.

Dell tells this story as a 66-year old man (though, this only becomes evident in scant ways, and the voice is a teenager's, one wise beyond his years). And I can't help but think Ford is reflecting on his life through this book - he is returning to a setting from early in his career, and he is thinking about the things that led up to his life now (I think he is almost 70). As I've said, this is a sad and quiet book - but in the best sort of Wim Wenders way. I do think it will make the Pulitzer and National Book lists.

If I have one criticism of the book, it is the use of the cliffhanger type endings in some of the chapters. As in, "and he knew he would never see again", or "later when he found the man dead in the room" (these are paraphrase samples, trying not to spoil anything - but hell, right from the beginning line you know there is a robbery and a murder). I wonder if editors told Ford, "You know it's beautiful and all that, but can you crank up the tension, just a bit?" These bits seem out of place. And I want to say, shut up unnamed editor, I am just fine with the pace. I have seen Ford in interviews, including the Colbert Report (!), himself reminding the interviewer that the book is also about robbery and murders, as if to say, "hey, it's not like that literary stuff that people don't read anymore." Again, I say, Richard, shhh. It's fine. It's more than fine.

I know this is a book I will read again. The controlled and elegant prose needs to be studied. The mood is not something I look forward to, but the feelings, and even the truth, that it evokes create something that I find in classic novels: at the end, I am changed.

At this point in my life (49), I think a lot of my Saskatchewan upbringing. Incidentally, my father was a goose hunter, also born right around the setting of the novel, and these sections of the book are crystalline in their imagery. And I think of borders, what it means to cross over them, and to never return.
My favorite quote in the book is the narrator quoting Ruskin,
"Composition is the arrangement of unequal things."

This is what Ford does. He takes these unequal things in our lives, and he puts them into stories that tell us who we are.



View all my reviews

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