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Canada by Richard Ford


by Richard Ford

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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 |
First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.”

From that very first line, you know that this is not going to be the typical coming of age story.

Dell Parsons and his fraternal twin sister, Berner, live with their parents in Great Falls, Montana. They had moved around quite a bit and so don't have many ties or friendships within their community. At sixteen Dell is a member of the school's chess club and considers beekeeping as a hobby. Berner has a boyfriend. Their mother teaches at a nearby school.

But then their father gets entangled in a shady scheme and when it goes wrong, he decides that the only way to pay off the bad guys and end the death threats is to rob a bank. When the kids' mother refuses to let her son drive the getaway car, she also becomes part of the scheme.

It doesn't end well. Both parents disappear into the prison system and the teenaged Berner and Dell are left alone. Berner runs away, heading for the Coast rather than risking being in the juvenile system. Dell is spirited away to Canada and lives an independent life supposedly under the non-watchful eye of his mother's friend's brother – a secretive, non-communicative man with an incident buried in his past that will drag Dell into more of the same, including, finally, the murders mentioned in the novel's first sentence.

The story is told by the 66 year old Dell, about to retire. He relates his life lessons: Other people's choices may shatter your current life in an instant, but you don't have to be defined by them. The people who do best in life are the ones who overcome loss and move onward.

This is not a fast paced crime story and there aren't any spoilers in this book. Throughout the novel we are teased with upcoming information from a later part of the tale, just as we are in the first sentence. This was an interesting way of telling the story – forward flashes, giving hints and bits of events to come throughout the narrative. Instead of being 'spoilers' however, they drew me on, eager to see up close events glimpsed briefly from a distance, like a mountain range seen distantly at the edge of the Big Sky's prairie horizon. ( )
  streamsong | May 22, 2015 |
Excellent coming of age book. So fabulous ( )
  shazjhb | Apr 11, 2015 |
After hesitating to try it at all (comparisons of Ford to John Updike really put me off), and then being disinfected* by some style issues in the first few chapters, I found myself totally engrossed with this novel, in which Dell Parsons, from a perspective of 50 years hence, tells us about a presumably formative period of his life--the year he was almost 16, when his parents, by stupidly attempting to rob a bank, effectively abandoned Dell and his twin sister, Berner. In order to prevent her children's ending up in the hands of the juvenile authorities in the event of her arrest (which she seems to have had wits enough to realize was inevitable), Mrs. Parsons arranged for a friend to spirit them away to Canada where presumably they could start life over without the inconvenient baggage of convicted bank robbers for parents. Berner had other ideas, but Dell ended up under the dubious protection of a big fish in the mighty small pond of Fort Royal, Saskatchewan, a place where nothing much happened other than goose hunting, and where he had plenty of time to ponder questions that had already started to bother him: does a man's character show in his face? are you destined to be who you become by some fundamental element of your makeup? does it really matter what happens to you, or will you become your true self regardless? It's a quiet journey Dell takes, despite a bit of violence here and there, and ultimately he believes he ended up precisely where he would have, had his parents gone on with their "ordinary" lives, sent him to college and never dreamed of robbing a bank or sending him off to be fostered by strangers in a strange land. I'm not sure when I stopped minding Ford's style, or if he dropped the awkward quirks that broke my reading stride early on, but by page 75 or so, I was just caught in the story, and that part of my brain that is aware of the author was sound asleep in a corner somewhere. I'm docking the novel 1/2 a star for the rocky start, although that may have been my own fault. I am very glad to have made Richard Ford's acquaintance, and am happy to say I find him much more in affinity with John Irving (Last Night in Twisted River came to mind) than with Updike.

*cf Bucky Katt

Review written March 2015 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Apr 7, 2015 |
It is a very interesting story about a short part of a man's life when he was 15 years old and how this had influenced his whole life. The events are told by himself 50 years. The story is set in three parts whereas the first part is the longest and is set in the USA. Therefore I had some difficulties to make a link to its title. Part two and three are mostly set in Cananda. In the first part he describes his family and the his parent's bank robbery. It is fascinating how detailed he is telling the incident. I got a very good feeling about all family members and the strong bond between him and his twin sister. In the second part he arrived in Cananda where he had to learn being on his own and how greenly he was. In the third part he is telling us how he is living today, what he is doing and what is important for him. It's also how he gets confronted with his past.
The story is carefully written with a lot of love for all characters. ( )
  Ameise1 | Mar 25, 2015 |
a story of a boy who survives the foolish acts of adults. His parents rob a bank and are arrested, his sister runs away and his mother has arranged that he is taken to Canada to live with unreliable strangers, completely alone. This is not giving anything away, the reader always knows because the boy, Del, tells you. The setting is 1960. I really had a hard time believing some of this story but then, maybe. Del was a twin. He wanted to go to school. He had interests such as bee keeping. He was a good kid. What really held me was the narration. Something about Del's voice was very compelling. It's a story that looks at marginalized life, breakdown of family and the effects of crime on the children. ( )
  Kristelh | Mar 23, 2015 |
Richard Ford is one of my favorite authors. No American male should go through life without reading the Harry Bascombe trilogy. This novel, like his earlier one Wildlife, is a reflective piece where the narrator looks back at his life. Now a days as we have the ability to download a sample of the novel, I was pretty much hooked by the first sentence. "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." The book goes on to detail how the narrator (Dell) and his sister moved around during their earlier years, children of a retired military man in the 60's. His father's inability to find work led him to develop a scheme of selling meat, slaughtered by the Cree Indians and sold to the railroad. He was the middleman and the one stuck in the middle when the deal went south. Soon after that Dell and his sister's life goes south as well as a failed bank robbery leaves them as virtual orphans. The narrative then moves into Dell's experience in Canada, living with an eccentric brother of his mother's friend. It is a harsh experience, but Dell manages to reflect how to adjust to the changes life throws at you.
"The world doesn’t usually think about bank robbers as having children — though plenty must. But the children’s story — which mine and my sister’s is — is ours to weigh and apportion and judge as we see fit. . . . Ruskin wrote that composition is the arrangement of unequal things. Which means it’s for the composer to determine what’s equal to what, and what matters more and what can be set to the side of life’s hurtling passage onward.” This is an important theme in the novel, and one that is appropriate to suit some of the events in my life right now - the idea of tolerating loss well.
I would recommend this book to others. If you are new to Richard Ford , start at the Sportswriter. the Harry Bascombe books, like Updike's Rabbit novels, are essential American reading experiences. ( )
  novelcommentary | Mar 22, 2015 |
Things you did. Things you never did. Things you dreamed. After a long time they run together. Page 77

Dell Parson and his twin sister Berner have their world turned upside down when their parents commit a crime that would forever separate their family. With his parents incarcerated and his sister taking off to make a life for herself, fifteen year old Dell is whisked off to the little god forsaken dot on a map in Saskatchewan. Hiding among strangers, Dell will come to terms with what life has given and taken and that sometimes life doesn't give us any answers, even when we try to ask the right questions.

I'm not quite sure what to make of Canada after initially finishing the book. None of the actions of the characters in the books made any logical sense to me, even when they tried to give it an explanation. I'm not even sure what the point of the story was, but I am glad that despite having the odds stacked against him, and his numerous encounters with questionable people, Dell was able to maintain a semblance of a normal existence, whatever normal means. Given that Ford is a Pulitzer Prize winner, I'd want to give his other works a try, but judging Canada completely on its own merits, I'm not exactly convinced yet. Not a book I'd recommend that you have to pick up right at this very second. ( )
  jolerie | Mar 13, 2015 |
Strange novel written from the perspective of an adolescent (who matures into a grown man) who, with his twin sister, finds himself adrift after his parents get arrested for an inept bank robbery. Before the authorities realize that the children are alone and put them into the foster care system, the sister runs away. A workplace friend of the jailed mother transports the narrator from his home in Montana to a hotel that her brother owns in a small town in Saskatchewan.
A lot happens in the novel, and there's a lot for both the narrator and the reader to chew on. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Jan 12, 2015 |
This book was strange and beautiful. ( )
  NatalieSW | Jan 1, 2015 |
In comparison to another review on here which preferred the first half of this book I think I would say that the second half was the more intriguing. Yes the first half set the scene well but it did feel like a bit of overkill. The background and the consequences of the robbery are picked over in minute detail. I definitely found this part slow going whereas the second half of the book flew by. Overall though a very thought provoking book and yes it definitely did feel emotionally draining by the end of it. Powerful stuff. ( )
  polarbear123 | Dec 30, 2014 |
I am a big Ford fan, but bucking the critical consensus, I wouldn't put Canada up there with his very best. It's unequivocally a book of two halves, and for me, the first half was a much stronger book than the second. It left me with a feeling of slight flabbiness, and that Ford had a destination in mind, determined to get there at the expense of better construction.

Del Parson is the narrator of the novel, an older man now stepping us through the most tumultuous period of his life, when his parents resolved to commit a bank robbery. That decision will shatter Del's young life and change him, and his family, inalterably.

The first thing to talk about, when you're talking about Ford's books, is the prose. As always, it is achingly good. His ability to capture the thoughts of a fifteen year old boy, when written from the vantage point of a man in his sixties (both Ford, and the adult Del, looking back), is remarkable. What's even more remarkable is its readability. Ford has never been one for literary pyrotechnics, but the profundity and beauty of his words is easy glide over and miss because it's just so darned easy to digest. The simplicity belies the care and weight Ford invests in his sentences. The way he closes his chapters is just beauitful poetry.

There's an equal facility (mostly; we'll get to that), with his characters. Ford isn't interested in cutting anyone's heads open, and laying their thoughts out for the reader to pick through like beachcombers. Instead we get actions, sometimes cryptic; words, often contradictory; and Del's own insightful, but limited observations. It works, very well. Del's portrait of his brittle, strained family and prickly twin sister are so real and undeniably human, I found myself helplessly loving them just as Del does.

Ford struggles more in the second half of the book, where Del interacts with a far more eccentric (and I felt less real) cast of characters. Whilst Ford refuses to overwrite, in dealing with characters that are more extreme, it's easier to slip towards cliche or cypher - which disappointed me. I also felt the rushed timeline lent an unreal air to this part of the story. The tension he had built so masterfully in the first half was strangely absent, and the denouement was simply far too speedy.

For all that, it is not a bad book; simply a less strong one from Ford. Well worth reading from one of the masters of American literature. ( )
  patrickgarson | Dec 28, 2014 |
I registered a book at BookCrossing.com!
  JosieRivers | Dec 28, 2014 |
This is a compelling story of one family (two adults; two children) -- make no mistake about it. But I thought it took Richard Ford (a consummate writer, by the way) a long time to tell it.

By the end of the story, I was exhausted. It was emotionally wrenching -- particularly from the standpoint of Dell (the boy in the story).

I highly recommend "Canada" -- but possibly not as a first read (if you haven't already read any of Ford's other works). ( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
Drawn by the title, and the author's pedigree, I came to the novel Canada as a Canadian, anticipating a story illuminating this vast and diverse country and people.

Instead, what I came upon was an author trying too hard, and unsuccessfully, to channel the likes of F. Scott FitzGerald or John Steinbeck, carrying with him a typically American ignorance of Canada, its people, its culture, its heritage.

The story revolves, endlessly, around a bank-robbing mother and father who, through their idiocy and sense of entitlement, leave their children, fraternal twins, barely into adolescence as orphans and essentially homeless.

The novel is full of implausibilities: the fact there are no social services to take charge of the children at the time of the arrest of the parents; the smuggling of the unreliable narrator into Canada to an alleged safe house; the robbery itself. The list is just too long to enumerate here.

The writing, although lauded by critics as a 'meticulous concern for the nuances of language', to this reader fell flat, lacklustre, without that alleged meticulous concern for the nuance of language. Frankly, it read as so much blah, blah, blah. In fact, the first third of the book is interminably expository, given little credence or gravitas by the nature of Ford's use of the unreliable narrator.

When we finally come to the denouement, we are treated to a moment out of an old Peggy Lee song, Is That All There Is? Which is followed quickly by a complete change of scenery and time, one cannot help but feel because the author ran out of steam.

The characters were so utterly cardboard as to be ridiculous.

And let us not even begin to speak of the gross misunderstanding of anything to do with Canada, let alone Saskatchewan. Frankly, upon consideration, I would recommend every Canadian to pick up this novel, particularly if you're from Saskatchewan, just to explode into laughter at how wrong this writer could envisage that oceanic, wildly free geography we know as the middle province of the Prairies.

Finally, good job, Richard Ford, by way of insulting every Canadian who might read this book by stating several times in the novel: Canadians are just like Americans, and, Canadians want to be just like Americans. Seriously?

Next time the author of Canada wishes to write with authority about a foreign country, I suggest he actually live in that country for a period of time, immerse himself in the culture and the people, then, and only then, he might begin to approach the subject matter with some authority. But, then, maybe not. Any author who can write with sublime confidence that Canadians are just like Americans plainly hasn't a clue and should stick to writing about his own culture. ( )
1 vote fiverivers | Oct 30, 2014 |
For me, there was just far too much detail---Dell's remembering of 50 years ago in extreme detail, down to colors and textures and eye meanings, mouth movements. Yes, a large part of the novel happened over a very few days when the life-changing event for him occurred but it was exhausting to listen to. I kept waiting for the audio to actually get somewhere. It seemed overly long with Dell's over-analysis of everything that had happened to him as a 15 year old---yes, absolutely not normal in any stretch of the word, but also not completely great reading/listening-to material in a novel. ( )
  nyiper | Aug 17, 2014 |
So. Canada. This is a book about a 15-year-old boy named Dell whose parents decide to rob a bank, which completely disrupts his and his twin sister's lives. The story is told by an older Dell looking back on the whole experience, but he manages to keep his younger self's perspective.

It's a very quiet book. All of the strange events (bank robbery, crossing the border to run from the law, etc.) are presented very calmly. Most of the time, they're even sort of spoiled by the narrator before they even take place. But the point doesn't really seem to be to thrill the reader with the events, it's too look more closely at them and the people doing such things. That's my issue with the book, though. I don't think that it can't have both aspects.

Almost the entire first half of the book is set up for the bank robbery that is mentioned in the first line. I wouldn't normally have that much of an issue with that (probably), but it was a lot of the narrator explaining how his parents, the robbers, are rather than showing us through their actions. Then, the second half, after the robbery actually occurs. I think I would've liked it better if it was a bit less subdued and a bit more consequential. But I can't deny that the adult characters Dell got thrown into the lives of were interesting. And I did love how Ford represented small, dying off towns. His writing isn't embellished (normally a con for me), but his descriptions of these places still left a very strong impression on me.

So. Canada. Maybe I went in with too high of expectations. I liked the characters, I liked most of the points about people/events that the narrator made (though he didn't necessarily need to say all of them outright to us). But I found myself excited to be finished so I could go on to read something else. Not the best sign. ( )
1 vote outlandishlit | Jun 9, 2014 |
I didn't mean to read this book; I thought it was going to be about Canada.

I wonder how Canadians feel about an American compared to Hemingway and other great American writers taking the name ‘Canada’ and using it for a title, in a book which is mostly about fictional Americans, set in fictional ghost towns in Saskatchewan. There’s something about naming a story after a country which raises expectations. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Take that shitty movie Australia, for instance.

(While reading this book I happened across an interview with the author on Canadian radio and listened to it via podcast – perhaps the Canadians are too nice to ask this very question, because the interviewer didn’t.)

The other thing is, the characters in this book called Canada don’t actually get to Canada for a long while. In fact, the bank robbery is announced in the first paragraph (so I’m not spoiling anything for you there) and the actual robbery takes place page 97. What happens in that first 97 pages? Bank robbery details and characterisation. This made me think. I wondered if the pace of modern storytelling has changed to the point where a bank robbery that takes 97 pages to happen is an anomaly in a storytelling climate built for quick thrills.

It was after the bank robbery that I became engaged, funnily enough, because surely bank robberies would rate pretty high on the excitement scale. Then the book lost me again when it became apparent that the narrator had wandered again into the lives of criminals -- groteque ones, this time.

Richard Ford uses an interesting style of narration here, blending the voice of an adolescent boy and the 65 year old man he is when he supposedly pens his memoir. (I guess partly because it is revealed his mother had always wanted to be a writer.)Since this is the voice of an older English teacher, you get sentences which contain some clarification after the point -- orator style -- 'I went back to the hotel in the taxi, which had waited.' An omniscient voice would probably explain in some other way that the taxi had waited. This technique stood out to me throughout the book.

I wanted to know more about Berner/Bev, though in fact her life was probably more interesting as a synopsis.

The scene of the women's prison is the most memorable. Otherwise, this feels a lot like watching Fargo, the TV series, as I am doing at the moment, which I've heard described as 'white noir', full of scenes which stick in your memory later, even after you've forgotten the plot. ( )
  LynleyS | May 28, 2014 |
This book was always going to be a stretch for our Monday Night group. Ford’s somewhat cold and clinical style left most of us feeling his characters unexplored and one dimensional. This is not to say we didn’t find the story compelling. In fact, most of us were intrigued by 15- year-old Dell’s narrative. His and twin sister Berner’s bizarre, dysfunctional family life demanded our attention … and a conclusion! Sadly, some of us could not muster the emotional attachment it took to continue with the second half and simply lost interest.

But for those of us who read on, it became a macabre struggle of survival for young Dell, despite all the odds pitted against him. Something that both Delia and Cheryl found fascinating. Sandra too was captivated by this dark and, to some degree, depressing tale.
It put us all on the trail of ‘parentless children’ and how they can literally fall through the cracks of a welfare system. Something we were sure could easily happen in the backwaters of Montana during Dell’s time, the mid ‘50s.

Slow beginning aside, the story escalated into a thought provoking and interesting read that left us pondering the many loose ends that the author left untouched … Dell’s evident escape to a better life, and his sister’s unknown future, to name a few. A neat and tidy story Canada may not be, but it kept the majority of our group sufficiently enthralled and more importantly, wanting more. ( )
  DaptoLibrary | May 20, 2014 |
A heavy mantle of foreboding hangs over much of the action of Canada, Richard Ford's masterful new novel. This is the story of Dell Parsons, who in 1960 is fifteen and growing up with his mother and father and twin sister Berner in Great Falls, Montana when the family unit is abruptly blown apart in the wake of an ill-planned and ineptly executed bank robbery committed by their parents. After their parents are arrested the resentful Berner simply walks away, apparently to forge a life for herself elsewhere. Dell waits in the passive fashion that we learn is habitual to him, and is eventually rescued by a friend of his mother, who had agreed to take both children to Canada to live with her brother in rural Saskatchewan, a place that in Ford's vision is bleak and harrowing and smouldering with repressed violence. Dell spends his time in Saskatchewan closely observing the strange people around him, keeping his emotions in check and committing himself to nothing, while trying to reinvent himself--he does not want the fact that he is the son of bank robbers to define his life. It turns out that the man into whose care he has been delivered, Arthur Remlinger, has spent years doing the same thing: struggling to emerge from the shadow of a rash act of violence committed by the passionate and idealistic youth he used to be. As Remlinger's past slowly catches up with him, we wait with Dell to see what Remlinger will do when pushed to the wall. Much of the novel explores how past acts contribute to the person we become in the present, the impossibility of denying these acts, the inescapable consequences and the need for acceptance. It is also a novel about crossing borders, physical and moral. The narrative, first person from Dell's perspective, is dark and taut, crowded with untrustworthy characters all keeping an eye on each other and filled with astute observations on human behaviour. The brief final section shows us Dell and Berner reunited fifty years after the main action, each having responded in his and her own way to their parent's fateful decision. This is a wise and profound work of fiction that you will not soon forget. ( )
  icolford | Mar 18, 2014 |
Superb first section. I still need to finish it. ( )
  jconnell | Mar 9, 2014 |
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