Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury ANZ
Dell Parsons and his family live in Great Falls, Montana. His family are very average in some ways and distinctly strange in other ways. His father Bev is a former military man, retired now and drifting around from one job to another, excelling at none of them. He’s tall, southern, charming – always able to find a scheme to be in on. He’s a drifter, content to have little and bear it with a smile. In contrast, his mother Neeva is foreign, the daughter of Polish immigrants, shy, studious and artistic. The two of them lost their heads one night and that resulted in Dell and his twin sister Berner. They did the right thing and got married but they weren’t suited – not at all.
When Dell is 15, his parents rob a bank. The most unlikely of criminals, their plan is fundamentally flawed and they are caught with little effort. Dell and his sister find themselves alone in the house, temporarily forgotten until their mother’s friend arrives to carry out her plans for them. By then Berner has left, determined to make it on her own so it is Dell that rides across Montana and over the Canadian border to a tiny shooting town. Here Dell is to stay until he is of an age where the authorities won’t be bothered by him but in this wilderness he doesn’t find a sanctuary. The town is one of hard work, strange occupants, shooters that pass in and outs and many secrets.
I have a soft spot for Richard Ford. In 2006 when I moved states to live with my now-husband, he worked nights and I was bored. Read these, he told me, handing me the first two books of Ford’s Frank Bascombe trilogy. I was skeptical – they weren’t really what I liked to read. But I decided to give them a go and ended up hooked. I consider Richard Ford (and one or two other authors) to be the beginning of my broadening some very narrow reading horizons. I’ve since read the 3rd novel in Bascombe’s trilogy and then eagerly awaited this one which had so many lovely wraps on it.
It’s hard to decide where to start when talking about a book such as Canada. It’s a thoughtful, beautifully written story that you can just immerse yourself in. The kind of story I’d love to get on audiobook now so I could sit back and have it told to me, because that’s what it’s like. From the very first line: “First I’ll tell you about the robbery my parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later,” to the close of the book, it is a slow, meandering journey of a family that fell apart. Two people that should never have worked, that didn’t work, but created two children during their brief liaison. One of the many things that is reiterated in this book is just how much Bev and Neeva didn’t match, or gel. They are two such different people, with different dreams and desires and different wants and needs out of life. Ford takes such time to develop their characters (and indeed, every other character in this novel) to paint such a vivid picture for the reader of the domestic life of the Parsons’ and the situation that led them to actually commit this act. How two ordinary people, the least likely criminals, actually went along with a plan (and a relatively bad plan, at that) to rob a bank and got caught.
The whole story is told through Dell’s eyes and he is so beautifully well constructed – just a teenage boy who wanted to go to school, who wanted to learn and he had his whole world turned upside down by his parents actions. It’s about identity, real or constructed, the “Americanness” versus a “Canadianness”. I have to admit that when I first began this, after a little while I was wondering – when are we going to get to Canada? But once I realised that Ford wouldn’t be hurried along in his storytelling and that it was quite obvious he’d chosen every word very carefully, I relaxed back and just let Dell’s tale sweep me along. And then we did get to Canada and it was amazing just how much Ford brought that desolate landscape and tiny, strange town to life under Dell’s narration. The people, the attitudes, the isolation and the prejudices that reign both north and south of the border.
There is a reason that Richard Ford has a reputation as one of his generation’s most finest storytellers. His attention to detail is meticulous, his narrative strong and his characterisation faultless. Don’t choose this one if you’re looking for something that’s all fast paced action, like a thriller. But if what you want most of all, is a story then this book will give you that. A wonderfully deep and meaningful story that I can see myself reading again and again in the coming years and finding more in it each time. Even though we are told so much about Dell and his life, the rituals of his childhood and the events that led to the falling apart of his family, it’s hard not to want to know a little more about his adult years. Canada is a perfect depiction of the deconstruction of his family and I’d love to know how he came to actually put that and the events that occurred in Canada behind him again. Too much to hope for another Dell book in future? Probably, but you never know!
All in all, Canada delivered on its every promise to me. There’s nothing more satisfying than finishing a book by an author you admire, one that’s been a few years in the making and knowing that it lived up to your expectations. It’s easy sometimes, to place too high expectations and be disappointed, which makes the times when a book lives up to, or even exceeds the expectations that you put on it, even more special.
Book #110 of 2012
**Incidentally, Melbourne experienced an earthquake last night whilst I was writing this review. It hit near Moe in the south-east and was felt all the way around and past where I live going south-west and almost up to Albury in the north west. And I never felt a single thing – not a tremor, nothing. Didn’t hear a rattle or a shake. The power of Richard Ford!