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177 of 203 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerhouse opening to a dazzling work of fiction
Every review of Canada is going to begin the same way, with the stunning opening sentences of the novel. "First I'll tell you 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."

That's a bit more...
Published on May 23, 2012 by Susan Tunis

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219 of 247 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Throw me a line!
I'm halfway through "Canada" and was hoping a couple of glowing reviews would give me incentive to keep going. So far, I am stunned by the excess of this book. Not its prose, which is plain and unmusical -- but the sheer quantity of it. Does Ford's publisher pay him by the word? I have rarely encountered this degree of small- and large-scale repetition in a...
Published on July 22, 2012 by J. Houghton


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219 of 247 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Throw me a line!, July 22, 2012
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This review is from: Canada (Hardcover)
I'm halfway through "Canada" and was hoping a couple of glowing reviews would give me incentive to keep going. So far, I am stunned by the excess of this book. Not its prose, which is plain and unmusical -- but the sheer quantity of it. Does Ford's publisher pay him by the word? I have rarely encountered this degree of small- and large-scale repetition in a straight-ahead novel. Nor can I abide the constant use of elbow-in-the-ribs foreshadowing to "lure" the reader through a story that moves at the pace of a narcotized snail. Half the myriad brief chapters end with some form of, "Had I known then what I know now..."

The glowing reviews here are from people with different sensibilities, and it's wonderful that they enjoyed the experience as much as they did. But I'm outta here; life is too short.
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177 of 203 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerhouse opening to a dazzling work of fiction, May 23, 2012
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This review is from: Canada (Hardcover)
Every review of Canada is going to begin the same way, with the stunning opening sentences of the novel. "First I'll tell you 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."

That's a bit more sensational than the average start of a serious literary work, but it telegraphs so much of what is to come. In fact, I'll give you a run-down of what those opening sentences illustrate:

* This novel is told from the point of view of a first-person narrator who speaks with a simple, clear voice.
* Despite the author's Pulitzer Prize-winning pedigree, this is a plot-driven novel bordering on a literary thriller.
* This is a coming-of-age tale.
* This novel is being told in reflection from some point in the future.

That's a fair amount of info to glean from three sentences!

The novel's narrator is 15-year-old Dell Parsons, one half of a set of fraternal twins. The other half is his sister, Berner, older by six minutes and always the more worldly of the two. The novel opens in the summer of 1960, and the family of four (with father, Bev and mother, Neeva) is living in Great Falls, Montana. The kids have had a fairly rootless upbringing, due to Bev's Air Force career and a lack of extended family connections.

Dell relates the family history, beginning with his parents' courtship and ill-advised marriage. "...they were no doubt simply wrong for each other and should never have married or done any of it, should've gone their separate ways after their first passionate encounter, no matter its outcome. The longer they stayed on, and the better they knew each other, the better she at least could see their mistake, and the more misguided their lives became as time went on--like a long proof in mathematics in which the first calculation is wrong, following which all other calculations move you further away from how things were when they made sense."

It's the older Dell, nearing retirement, that can look back on his past and family history and see things so clearly. His story is told in a combination of his older and younger voices. Nonetheless, given the above, it's no surprise he describes his family as "doomed." Bev doesn't adjust well to life outside the military, and a series of poor decisions leads the family, and particularly the teens, into dire and life-altering circumstances.

Like all novels being told in reflection, this one features quite a bit of foreshadowing--again, you can see it in those opening sentences. This continues throughout the novel, and there's a reason that foreshadowing is one of the most commonly used literary devices. Because it's so darn effective! Rather than diffusing the novel's tension, it ratchets it up, and it definitely keeps readers turning pages. It's amazing how powerful a simple "I never saw her again" or "given how her life turned out" can be, and when the foreshadowing is of a crime, even more so.

Despite the novel's page-turning plot, characters are given equal attention. This is obvious early on as Dell describes his father, "He was a non-stop talker, was open-minded for a southerner, had graceful obliging manners that should've taken him far in the Air Force, but didn't. His quick hazel eyes would search around any room he was in, finding someone to pay attention to him--my sister and me, ordinarily. He told corny jokes in a southern theatrical style, could do card tricks and magic tricks, could detach his thumb and replace it, make a handkerchief disappear and come back. He could play boogie-woogie piano, and sometimes would `talk Dixie' to us and sometimes like Amos `n' Andy. He had lost some of his hearing by flying the Mitchells, and was sensitive about it. But he looked sharp in his `honest' GI haircut and blue captain's tunic and generally conveyed a warmth that was genuine and made my twin sister and me love him." That's only a small part of Dell's recollection of Bev. Could I describe my own father so well? I doubt it. Even relatively minor characters have a feel of completeness about them, leaving me with linger questions about them long after they'd come and gone. How much did Mildred really know about her brother's life? Did Florence see Dell again?

The novel's prose is not ornate, but it's beautifully crafted. Ford expertly paints the time and places in which the novel is set. Clearly, I could go on quoting from and discussing this novel indefinitely, but better you should make these discoveries on your own. Near the novel's end, Dell states, "There's little else to say. I have that as my satisfaction." And by the time you reach this astonishing work's end, you'll have yours as well.
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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The antithesis of a thriller!, June 19, 2012
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This review is from: Canada (Hardcover)
What an odd read!!!

There are no surprises in this. You know from the opening sentence that is parents are going to rob a bank. As you read on you find out all before it happens. You know that his mother is going to commit suicide in jail. You know that there are going to be murders. You know in advance that his sister is going to run away. You know that he is going to Canada.

Maybe some books are like a river tumbling down from the mountains - face paced, gathering speed, sweeping all along on its rush to the sea. But this is a book like a lazy stretch of water on the coastal plain - meandering, backtracking, some parts stagnant, some parts eddying around obstacles, languid. I can't even say this narrative is a "slow reveal" because it is all there, teasing the reader to dip their toes in the water to find the depths of the narrative.

There were many times when I wanted to shake Dell and have him take a more active role in his own life. To me it wasn't a coming-of-age story because Dell never took this responsibility. It had a stronger flavour of we-are-who-we-are and the impact of parenting. Dell seemed to be just an observer ... too remote from his feelings to even be described as melancholy ... maybe pathologically innocent would be the closest.

It is calm, detailed, teasingly repetitive, bleak, engrossing and annoying!
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58 of 70 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It doesn't get better, November 7, 2012
This review is from: Canada (Hardcover)
"Loneliness, I've read, is like being in a long line, waiting to reach the front where it's promised something good will happen. Only the line never moves, and other people are always coming in ahead of you, and the front, the place where you want to be, is always farther and farther away until you no longer believe it has anything left to offer you."

I personally didn't find Richard Ford's writing style to be very moving or interesting; other reviewers have mentioned the excessive descriptions. Unfortunately, for me, the descriptions in this book didn't shine but rather cast a dusty, meaningless listless haze over all the characters. And all the characters seem to be trapped in a line as described above. It feels like a novel written about the DMV. The main character waits and waits and finally manages to complete his errand, and is compelled to recount his experience in great detail. Other characters are violent and impatient and are removed and others think they can skip ahead and wind up behind. If life is like a line at the DMV, it expertly describes the impatience, the inevitability, and the inability to leave with the unbearable attention to detail.

However, I do NOT think that life is like a line at the DMV. I found that 400 pages of listening to someone stuck in line, describing in great detail the minutiae of waiting, was not inspiring or moving but incredibly depressing. If you don't like it at first, it doesn't get better.
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69 of 84 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Life changing events can seem not what they are.", May 22, 2012
This review is from: Canada (Hardcover)
This novel was test of endurance for a number of reasons, subject, particularity of detail and length. It is a depressing tale of a brother and sister in the 1960s, fraternal twins Dell and Berner, whose parents rob a bank in North Dakota, return home to their fifteen-year-old children in Montana and are soon arrested for their crime. The convoluted logic that leads to the robbery is accounted in the first half of the book in an emotionless narrative by Dell that describes two mismatched parents, too few years of relative domestic harmony culminating in Montana, where Bev Parsons becomes involved in an illegal scheme that leaves him in severe financial jeopardy. His solution- the only way out he believes- is a bank robbery in another state, his wife coerced into acting as Bev's partner in lieu of their son, Dell.

The prose is funereal, the first part of the novel delivering a now homeless Dell to Saskatchewan, Canada (his sister runs away to avoid the same fate) in the care of Arthur Remlinger, brother of Dell's mother's friend Mildred Remlinger. Helpless and hopeless, Dell is at the mercy of strangers in another country, one step ahead of Montana officials prepared to put the twins into the state's custody. Left to fend for himself with Remlinger's handyman in tiny Partreau, Charlie Quarters, Dell yearns for the attention of his enigmatic, albeit illegal guardian. From a two-room shack with no amenities to Arthur's hotel, the Leonard in the more populous Fort Royal, Dell is finally taken under his guardian's wing, only later discovering the man's unsavory past and activities that demands a reckoning with two strangers from Detroit looking for Remlinger.

While Dell's sojourn in Canada is more eventful than his past in Montana- save the crime that severs children from parents' forever- a challenging, tainted childhood is even more bizarre under Arthur's care, the boy thrust into an untenable position with no one to shield him from the consequences of his mistakes in judgment. It is only Dell's common sense and thoughtful response to crisis that frees him from the random mendacity of adults. Witnessing the treachery of those around him through this young man's eyes is a daunting experience, a hardscrabble life with few moments of happiness or contentment. Literary this work of fiction may be, but also ponderous and as thoroughly detailed as an eighteenth century novel. I give Ford four stars for his perseverance and total commitment to Dell's coming-of-age struggle to survive his fate. Luan Gaines/2012.
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162 of 202 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crossing borders, May 22, 2012
This review is from: Canada (Hardcover)
"First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later." That's the first two lines of the book.

Beyond the vast ocean of Saskatchewanian wheat fields, burrowed with the detritus of past lives and half-lives, a fifteen-year-old boy is marooned on a forgotten prairie land with fugitives and transients, like a scrap of driftwood or a windblown, bone-cracked bottle. His surname is a mystery for twelve chapters; it's released, finally, like a swift, soft teardrop.

Ford's great American/Canadian novel is a coming-of-age adventure tale about realizing one's own identity through narrative, memories, and self-examination. Moreover, it's about crossing, dissolving, and abnegating boundaries, physically as well as psychically, and generating rapport between our internal selves and the external world. At the heart of this story are the borders we cross and the crosses we bear. Symbolic, too, is that Saskatchewan is the only Canadian province with no geographic physical properties to denote boundaries. The abandoned young Montanan hero redefines divisions and indivisible spaces with deep reflection.

"If anything, the similarity to America made its foreignness profound..."

This half of a twin, living as if he were an orphan, tells us his story with tender wit and optimism amidst the garbage heap of objects and dwellings inhabited by outlaws and goose hunters. He was taught to "always know something that I could relinquish." And he was able to see the world as its opposite, and draw strength from that.

The view of melting pot America ultimately merges with the cultural mosaic of Canada, and becomes a theme. In lesser hands, many aspects of this book could have seemed repetitive, tautological, but Ford amplifies the meaning of every revolving concept by mining it to its irreducible essence. Nothing is diminished in this masterpiece. The themes are potent, and not diluted with hollow slogans.

The story's hero narrates dramatic, life-changing events that happened to him and his twin sister, Berner, after their parents robbed a North Dakota bank in 1960. The twins' father, Beverly Parsons, was an Air Force bombardier from Alabama, a smiling, talkative, self-serving handsome six-footer who returned from the war ultimately misunderstanding the world he came home to, and unsuited to the woman he fell in love with. But he embraced all that America stood for.

Mother, Neeva, was a bespectacled intellectual from Tacoma, the daughter of educated Jewish immigrants, a woman who didn't want to assimilate with the people and land of Montana. The mismatch of parents created a terrible, unresolved tension that was chronicled in Neeva's journal and left as part of a legacy of loneliness for the children to untangle or inherit.

This nerve-shattering story is filled with vivid incidents and characters alike, propelled by charm and clarity, provocative as it is diverting. Short, fluent chapters maintain a lyrical, vibrating rhythm. It is accessible, engaging, eloquently woven and plotted, not one word out of place, not one event unnecessary. The prose is unprepossessing and yet noble, austere but lush, stark yet playful, elegiac but bright, polished with all the messiness of life.

It moves with the alacrity of a gazelle, spins together with effortless grace. As radiant and moving as a cinnamon sun and as sublime as a silver moon. This is a sensuous departure from the Frank Bascombe novels. The understated narrator's voice is flawlessly vulnerable, wry, and lightly brushed with a mournful surrender.

As an addendum, I read that Ford is planning to write more novels set in Canada. According to Harper Collins, "We are thrilled to be publishing the first of Ford's novels to be set in this country" (north of the 49th parallel).
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So Long, See You in Canada, June 28, 2012
This review is from: Canada (Hardcover)
In CANADA, Dell Parsons, the 65-year old narrator of this carefully calibrated novel, recounts the stories of two serious crimes. The first, a bank robbery, was committed by Dell's parents when he was 15 years old and lived in Great Falls, Montana. The second, which shall remain unnamed, occurs in a tiny Canadian town a mere six weeks later. In Dell's opinion, each of these crimes--the first naïve and amateurish and the second ruthless and unnecessary--emerges from the material of ordinary life. Observes Dell: "... I'm intrigued by how ordinary behavior exists so close to its opposite." Or: "I already knew, of course, from my own life... that implausible often became plausible..." And: "The prelude to very bad things can be ridiculous... but can also casual and unremarkable."

In telling the story of these two crimes, Richard Ford uses two very different approaches. When telling the story of the bank robbery, he uses 38 careful chapters, most discussing a single aspect of the crime or its aftermath, to build his narrative incrementally. In contrast, the narrative about the brutal crime in Canada, which starts like a coming-of-age story, depends on one cranky character, the hunting guide Charley, to set the stage. While the 29 chapters devoted to Dell's life in Canada and this crime are eventually involving, they basically are the denouement of events, neatly summarized by Charley, that occurred 15 years before. Overall, these very different approaches to crime narrative show that Ford has masterful range. But Part 2 of CANADA also reads like Ford realized his coming-of-age story wasn't working and so he decided to concoct another crime for Dell to witness.

In his Acknowledgements, which concludes CANADA, Ford observes that: "William Maxwell's presence will be obvious to any reader." Here, he is certainly referring to SO LONG, SEE YOU TOMORROW, where Maxwell's sixtyish narrator delves into what appears to be an inexplicable explosion of violence in a small town fifty years before. Here, I'd say that Maxwell ultimately does explain why this character-driven violence occurred. But fundamental to CANADA is Dell's belief that the big events in life, which can erupt from mundanity, don't have to happen and are therefore arbitrary. Observes the character Mildred: "We don't always go to places... sometimes we just end up there."

I have read and enjoyed the three outstanding Bascombe novels. There, Ford has created and maintained the amazing Frank Bascombe, whose voice is a rich and fully modern stew of dread, guilt, wariness, and inner turmoil. In contrast, the voice of Dell is, at its best, merely subtle. In fact, Dull, I mean Dell, reads as if Ford was tired of the character Frank and wanted to explore his talent at a lower altitude. Near the conclusion of CANADA, Dell explains his voice. He says: "I believe in what you see being most of what there is." Nonetheless, there may be others out there who, like me, miss the conflicted and elegant Frank.

IMHO, CANADA is basically a four-star read, since its truths seem more literate--that is, true to the text--than real. Regardless, I deduct another star for two reasons. The first is what I shall euphemistically call THE CEMENT GARDEN moment. Certainly, this captures the theme of the implausible emerging from the plausible. But, Richard, this incident is not plausible. Second, I question whether an author, who isn't trapped in a literary machine, would allow a certain important statement by Dell to stand unchallenged. That statement--"Some things you just don't tell"--makes the novel work. But, Dell, you're wrong. These things you do tell.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I So Wanted to Like This Novel, June 24, 2012
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This review is from: Canada (Hardcover)
Let me begin with this: "Canada" is written as a first person account by a narrator who is not totally reliable. And that is part of the beauty of the novel because this narrator, the son of a husband-wife flawed bank robbing duo, doesn't know all the details. And readily admits that is the case. It is, of course, told retrospectively because the robbery happened when Dell and his twin sister, Berner, were teenagers.
The parents are completely wrong for each other, and the only reason they married was--surprise!--Neeva is pregnant, and Bev (Beverly which he reminds people is a fine English male name along with Shirley, etc.) who was in the military does the right thing which, of course, was exactly not that.
Bev we learn has a checkered past, so it would be no surprise that when he runs into problems financially, a man who was always scheeming for a better way to make a living other than selling cars which he didn't do well at, because he is working with another bunch of crooks. So he decides to rob a bank and cons his wife, whose parents she has not seen since her marriage because they so disapproved, into aiding him. And naturally they are caught. So that leaves the kids to fend for themselves.
They live in Montana. And Canada is next door. So...
However, having said this, I couldn't finish this novel. Unlike many five-star reviewers' experience, I just found the novel boring, especially once the narrator ends up in Canada, so boring I no longer cared about the character or what might happen next.
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50 of 63 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I gave up..., June 5, 2012
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C. W. Sherwood (Southern California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Canada (Kindle Edition)
I made it through two-thirds of the book and just couldn't continue anymore, which is exceedingly rare for me. As someone who has loved Richard Ford's previous books, I couldn't wait to read this--and felt bitterly disappointed. I would never have guessed this was written by the same author. It has little insight (other than that parents' actions affect their children--oh, really? I didn't realize.), and there's next to no plot. Literally. The main character is completely passive. The most I ever felt for him was minor sympathy because of his rotten parents, who are drawn much more vividly but in excruciatingly repetitive fashion. The reader is hammered over the head with the same descriptions of their marriage and their faults.
In addition, although I'm fine with books with serious and thought-provoking themes, this one was simply bleak, with no hope of escaping. The only way I finally could was to stop reading. I'll be reluctant to ever read Ford's books again, sadly.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Slower than molasses in January, June 4, 2013
By 
FryLady (Los Angeles) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Canada (Paperback)
I have read The Odyssey, James Joyce's Ulysses, War and Peace, and Infinite Jest, but this book brought me to my knees crying "Uncle." As I started off, the story seemed promising, although slow. The descriptions were evocative and I felt for the main character, Dell, and wanted to see what happened to him. However, as time passed, description began to be all there was. Mercifully, most chapters were brief - possibly this is what kept me going through endless description of landscape and the light in a bedroom and people sleeping. Ford does create a vivid image of a family isolated not just from the community but also from each other. However, as some other reviewers have pointed out, does he need to take this long to tell it? Just when it seemed like something was finally about to happen (SPOILER), we hit "Part 2" and I emitted an audible groan. The novel enters a new, even more depressing setting with young Dell packed off to nowhere to live among disturbing freaks in squalor. At this point the barely-existent dialogue dropped off to almost nothing, and the description hit overload. When Ford embarked on a pages-long description of what Dell's mysterious uncle has in his closet, I bailed. Let me say that 1) description, especially of landscape, isn't my cup of tea and 2) I like books that focus on social interactions among humans, preferably of both sexes. This book had tons of (1) and nearly none of (2.) Kind of turned into the print equivalent of watching a black-and-white Western in which everyone's creepy and the Sheriff never does anything but scuff his boot on the dirt and walk around town...real.....slow. If you would find that enjoyable, go for it! P.S. I was horribly bothered by the twin sister's lack of caring about her brother. This just didn't ring true as someone who knows more than one set of twins.
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Canada by Richard Ford (Hardcover - May 22, 2012)
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