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Canada by Richard Ford

Canada (edition 2012)

by Richard Ford

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1,506974,914 (3.67)149
Authors:Richard Ford
Info:London Bloomsbury 2012
Collections:Your library
Tags:roman, identiteit, ouder-kindrelatie

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Canada by Richard Ford



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English (84)  Spanish (7)  Swedish (2)  Catalan (1)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (96)
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The opening lines are already famous, and they lure us in with the promise that what follows will be just as good. “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.”
His parents "...were regular people tricked by circumstance and bad instincts, along with bad luck, to venture outside of boundaries they knew to be right, and then found themselves unable to go back.”
His rhythm and his voice are remarkably consistent through the book. “Our family came to a stop in Great Falls, Montana, in 1956, the way many military families came to where they came to following the war.” The cadence carries you along, like a slow-moving boat bobbing along but nonetheless headed steadfastly in one direction.
Part One is as promised, the story of his parents and the robbery, told from the perspective of the 15 year old son Dell. This is the strongest and most memorable part of the book. It's not just Dell who is coming of age, but in some ways his parents too. Dell says about his father, “During all these years I’ve thought about his eyes, and how they became so different. And since so much was about to change because of him, I’ve thought possibly that a long-suppressed potential in him had suddenly worked itself into visibility on his face. He was becoming who and what he was always supposed to be. He’d simply had to wear down through the other layers to who he really was.”
The tensions builds slowly to the robbery.
“Things you did. Things you never did. Things you dreamed. After a long time they run together.”
He describes his parents heading to the robbery. They are still regular people, they haven't yet actually gone down that branch of the fork in the road they are approaching. “…It’s the edging closer to the point of no return that’s fascinating: all along the trip, chatting, sharing confidences, exchanging endearments — since their life was officially still intact.”
Ford compares this to drifting on a raft, or up in a balloon. “You notice it, or you don’t notice it. But you’re already too far away, and all is lost.”
It’s a slow-mo telling. Slow-mo, freeze while he digresses, more slow-mo. But still inexorably heading towards those robberies.
“Lacking an awareness of consequence might’ve been their greatest flaw.”

In Part 2 Dell is borne to Canada. “…you crossed borders to escape things and possibly to hide, and Canada in his view was a good place for that. But it also meant you became someone different in the process — which was happening to me, and I needed to accept it.”
He struggles to regain equilibrium and a new perspective, difficult for a teenager who really hasn't even yet lived enough to develop those in the first instance. But he does start to figure some things out. “Things happen when people are not where they belong, and the world moves forward and back by that principle.”
Occasionally he casually drops in a phrase that blends in so easily with its neighbours that you delay recognising its significance. It is said as if he knew the reader already knew that particular fragment, so there’s no point embellishing it or dwelling on it. 'There it is, as you know, and so of course this follows.' Except we didn’t know. At first reading I briefly wonder “did I miss that information the first time he told me?” But of course not, he has been quite careful not to tell us. The actual information flow is precisely calibrated. And so the story unfolds. He opens the doors to the future and to the murders with these casual lines.
A 4 for the story, but a 5 for style and the wonderful voice. ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
Beautifully written book about the disintegration of a family. I am not sure whether I enjoyed reading it b/c I found it very sad and haunting. Although it speaks to the resilience of some people (main character goes through a great deal of adversity but pulls through) the story itself was focused more on the adversity and makes the reader infer what happened to Dell in early-middle adulthood. As a result, I personally felt like a large piece of the story was missing between parts 2 & 3 and felt unsatisfied by the ending. What was about about Dell's character and life decisions that made him emerge as a successful and "happy" adult whereas his twin was unable to attain much? However, it was thought provoking and an engaging read. ( )
  JenPrim | Jan 15, 2016 |

There is a certain moment when the reader is already half through Richard Ford's novel Canada, when Dell Parsons, the narrator of the story gives us an insight into his philosophy of life:

"It's been my habit of mind, over these years, to understand that every situation in which human beings are involved can be turned on its head. Everything someone assures me to be true might not be. Every pillar of belief the world rests on may or may not be about to explode. Most things don't stay the way they are very long. Knowing this, however, has not made me cynical. Cynical means believing that good isn't possible; and I know for a fact that good is. I simply take nothing for granted and try to be ready for the change that's soon to come."

What if Dell's and his twin sister Berner's parents hadn't met at all? They could have married someone else, someone more suitable as a partner. What if Dell's mother had decided to leave her husband with the children at a moment when it still was possible? She was only 34, and her husband 37 - a mismatch if there ever was one - when the terrible thing happened that left such a mark on Dell and destroyed this quite average American family, living in a quite average town, Great Falls, Montana. What if Dell's father, a war hero, charming and good-looking, but obviously over-estimating his talents and under-estimating the risks of his fraudulent business schemes in which some Indians were involved, would have remained in the airforce? Probably none of the terrible events that happened, would have happened at all. But because of a tragic coincidence of many small events and happenstances, Dell Parsons has to begin the life story we are reading with the words:

"First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister's lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first."

What follows is the very detailed account of the events that led to the robbery and that make roughly half of the book. The amateurish bank robbery of Dell's and Berner's parents happened in a moment when the mother had (almost) made up her mind to leave her husband. But beside from having pretentions regarding her children's education and of having a real talent to be a poet and writer, a talent that is suffocated in her marriage with a man from an Alabama backwater town who speaks in a funny Dixie accent that is kind of repelling for the daughter of educated Jewish immigrants - beside from that Neeva, the mother, is also a weak person that shies away in the last moment from leaving Bev, her husband.

Deep inside the mother must have felt that the bank robbery she is about to commit with her husband in order to pay a debt to some Indian who threatened to kill the family - a result of the failed dealings of her husband and his fellow crooks - is going to fail, because she made arrangements for her children to be taken to Canada by her friend Mildred Remlinger, and thus to prevent them from being brought up in a foster home or even a juvenile prison. While Berner runs away on her own and leads later a hippie-style life in San Francisco, Dell is making the journey to Canada with Mildred. Mildred has a brother in Canada, Arthur, and this Arthur is supposed to take care of Dell.

If it wouldn't be for the intro of the book, we as readers would suspect that after the traumatic experience with his parents who are locked away for life or at least a very long time, Dell is now through the worst part of his life, and the second part would describe how he builds up a new better life in Canada. But - there is Arthur Remlinger, handsome, intelligent, with good manners, a former Harvard student, a reader and chess player with an interesting ladyfriend, Florence, a painter.

Remlinger seems oddly out of place in the godforsaken place in Sasketchewan where he owns a run-down hotel with a gambling den and a bar full of "Filipino" girls that spend the night frequently with the guests in their rooms; his right-hand man Charley, a halfbred, is a really creepy guy and probably a pervert, as Dell suspects who has to work with this Charley when the "sports", the hunters from the U.S., visit the area that is full of game. Arthur Remlinger, an American like Dell, has a dark past, a past that is not forgotten by everyone as it turns out...and he has a violent temper too...

The reviewers were divided regarding the qualities of this book. While some praised the work as a masterpiece, others complained about the slowness with which the story builds up and about certain redundancies. Yes, this is a story that builds up very slowly - and you need to like that if you want to enjoy the novel. And yes, there are redundancies, but I found them quite interesting. After all, we are reading the story told by Dell Parsosns, after his retirement as a teacher in Canada, and after having met his twin sister again who is suffering from the final stages of cancer. For me the redundancies are attempts of the narrator to rationalize what has happened to him, to make sense of a life in which everything went upside down more than once, and to reassure himself that the things really happened to him the way they did.

What makes the book also interesting to me, are the antagonisms on various levels: between the parents; between the parents and children; between Dell and Berner, although twins being so different; between men and women; between the United States and Canada, so near and similar, and yet so different countries and societies. And the big villain of the book, the enigmatic Arthur Remlinger, has the format of Kurtz, the "hero" of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

How come Dell survives the catastrophes of his life so (seemingly) unharmed? Maybe it is because of his ability to take life like it is, and not as it should be according to our plans and pretentions; maybe because of the fact that he felt always loved by his parents and his sister, despite the fact that this family was not like other families; maybe because of the fact that there was always a woman in his life who made an important decision for him in a crucial moment (his mother; his sister; Mildred; Florence; Clare) that proved to be life-altering in a positive way. But in the end, it remains a mystery why some of us not only survive difficult childhoods but do something meaningful with their lives, while others in similar conditions turn into criminals or end in suicide.

Dell has not become a beekeeper, something he wanted to become when he was young; and he has also not become a strong chess player, despite the fact that he studied Mikhail Tal's combinations again and again when he was young. But he took a few good lessons from life and mastered it somehow, even when the odds were against him in his youth, and even when his father and later Arthur Remlinger tried to make him an accomplice to their crimes.

For me this is the best work of Ford so far - and his previous books were already excellent. Canada is a book about the fragility and loneliness of life, and how to come to terms with this fact. It left a very strong impression on me. ( )
  Mytwostotinki | Dec 14, 2015 |
Read as audio book - in French.
I waited and waited. To find the point in the book. It didn't come. It's a litany of seemingly unconnected, uninteresting episodes. What is it about these killings? And the fuss they make about the robbery?
Most ironically, the "Remerciements" at the end seem to try to revaluate the book, as though by listing and praising dozens of people the reader would finally acknowledge that it's big.
At least it proves that I tried til the end!
  Kindlegohome | Jul 10, 2015 |
“Canada” is a meditation. Like life on the 49th parallel, it is at times bleak but also majestic in scope. It is a story of youth represented by summer below the 49th in Great Falls, Montana and growth represented by winter above the 49th.

As the story opens we are told from the beginning that Dell Parson’s parents have committed a bank robbery, been jailed, his mother has committed suicide and he and his sister have been left to fend mostly for themselves and to find their way in the world without help from their parents.

The Parson’s are an Air Force family. Their father a debonair southern charmer is a Captain in the USAF. Their mother, the daughter of Polish immigrants raised in Tacoma, Washington is everything their father is not – dark, dour and reserved. Their one commonality is the love they have for their daughter Berner and their son Dell. Ultimately, due to the character weaknesses in both parents and the inability to support their family, a bank robbery is committed. From the planning or lack of, until the act itself, we know that this endeavor has no chance of succeeding.

The story before the robbery, unfolds in the setting of Great Falls, Montana in 1960. It is an examination of small town life; what it means to be an American and the role of the white man and his relationships in shaping the plight of the Native American’s in the region. It has a triangle of race relations between a corrupt African American Pullman porter, local Native American cattle rustlers and Capt. Parson’s running a meat scam that carried over from his time in the USAF.

The story after the robbery speaks briefly to the fall out and dissolution of the family but more importantly focuses on Dell, His twin sister Berner leaves to start her own life and it is not until the very end of the book that we discover what road she traveled and where she ends up. We do know that she is headed to San Francisco in an attempt to reunite with a boyfriend she had in Great Falls.

Dell is taken to Canada. This occurs because of an arrangement Dell’s mother makes with an acquaintance. Once there, Dell is more or less provided with a job, very rudimentary accommodations and left to fend for himself. Throughout the book, Dell’s interest in chess is almost an allegory of how to survive in life. Sacrifices have to be made in order to succeed and like chess, the game of life cannot be rushed or fast forwarded in order to achieve the end game.

This is not a book for readers who need action in order to hold their interest. The story is told in some detail through the eyes of a fifteen year old boy. It includes all the missed cues and misunderstandings of youth and the slow realizations of what is happening as a child is forced to grow up quickly. In that sense, the book is very much a meditation. It is somewhat poetic and the beauty is in the stark detail.

This is the first book that I have read by Richard Ford but from other things I have read about this author this slow, melodic, poetic way of storytelling is a signature of Ford’s. If you can allow yourself to take the time and appreciate the slow pace of this book, you will definitely enjoy it. I did and I look forward to reading other works by this author. ( )
1 vote ozzieslim | Jun 15, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
Willa Cather once wrote that “a creative writer can do his best only with what lies within the range and character of his deepest sympathies.” By that measure, and any other, Richard Ford is doing his very best in his extraordinary new novel, “Canada,” his first book since “The Lay of the Land” six years ago. Here, Ford is clearly writing within the range and character of his deepest sympathies — in this case, from the point of view of an abandoned 15-year-old boy — and he’s doing it with a level of linguistic mastery that is rivaled by few, if any, in American letters today.

...it is a masterwork by one of our finest writers working at the top of his form.
...his [Richard Ford's] philosophy is best summed up by the wisdom he passes on to the students in his writing class, which manages to be both matter-of-fact and poetic: "I believe in what you see being most of what there is… and that life's passed on to us empty. So, while significance weighs heavy, that's the most it does. Hidden meaning is all but absent."

Perhaps that is the abiding subject of all Richard Ford's work. Here, though it is broached by way of some uncharacteristically violent interludes, it resounds with a newfound clarity. A surprisingly different kind of great Richard Ford novel, then, and one that casts its spell very slowly and with a steady cumulative power.
Canada is a superlatively good book, richly imagined and beautifully fashioned. Although it is too early to do so, one is tempted to acclaim it a masterpiece. It catches movingly the grinding loneliness at the heart of American life – of life anywhere. As the narrative makes its measured progress, the sadness steadily accumulates, a weightless silt that gets under the eyelids. The final encounter at the close of the book between Dell and Berner is one of the most tenderly drawn scenes in modern literature, and could only have been written by a writer of Richard Ford's empathy, insight and technical mastery.
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Book description
When fifteen-year-old Dell Parsons' parents rob a bank, his sense of a happy, knowable life is forever shattered. In an instant, this private cataclysm drives his life across a threshold that can never be uncrossed. His parent's arrest and imprisonment mean a threatening and uncertain future for Dell and his twin sister, Berner. Willful and burning with resentment, Berner flees their home in Montana, abandoning her brother and her life. But Dell is not completely alone. A family friend intervenes, spiriting him across the Canadian border, in hopes of delivering him to better life. There, afloat on a prairie of Saskatchewan, Dell is taken in by Authur Remlinger, an enigmatic and charismatic American, whose suave reserve makes a dark and violent nature. Undone by the calamity of his parents' robbery and arrest, Dell struggles under the vast prairie sky to remake himself and define the adults he thought he knew and loved. But his search for grace and peace only moves him nearer a harrowing and murderous collision with Remlinger, an elemental force of darkness. (ARC)
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In 1956, Dell Parsons' family came to a stop in Great Falls, Montana, the way many military families did after the war. His father, Bev, was a talkative airman from Alabama with an optimistic and easy-scheming nature. Their mother Neeva - shy, artistic - was alienated from their father's small-town world. It was more bad instincts and bad luck that Dell's parents decided to rob the bank. They weren't reckless people. In the days following the arrest, Dell is saved before the authorities think to arrive. Driving across Montana, his life hurtles towards the unknown; a hotel in a deserted town, the violent and enigmatic Arthur Remlinger, and towards Canada itself. But, as Dell discovers, in this new world of secrets and upheaval, he is not the only one whose past lies on the other side of a border.… (more)

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