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Customer Review

164 of 206 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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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 31 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 22, 2012 3:42:11 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 22, 2012 3:42:40 AM PDT
Luan Gaines says:
S'bug, you do this novel more justice than I was able to, your review both generous and nuanced. I wish I had been better able to appreciate Ford's work, but felt weighted by the pervasiveness of sadness and confusion of this boy's unhappy young life. I am such a fan of your work. LG

In reply to an earlier post on May 22, 2012 4:49:13 AM PDT
Luan--that is so very kind of you. I am a big fan of your reviews, also.


Posted on May 22, 2012 12:20:19 PM PDT
A truly lyrical review, Bug. But I also know that the more lyrical you get, the less likely I am to like the book. Sorry! Roger.

In reply to an earlier post on May 22, 2012 7:55:22 PM PDT
The Bug -

Ford is in the top 100 with this? Wonderful and great. Could this be salvation for America (or is it all those Canadian cross-border folks?)

I'm an immense fan of his. Have read most of his works, and reviewed about half of them. Women with Men : Three Stories and Independence Day: Bascombe Trilogy (2) are by two favorites.

With all due respect to Roger, Lyrical works for me.

Thanks for the "heads-up."


In reply to an earlier post on May 22, 2012 11:18:54 PM PDT
Roger--this one I kept fairly tame, and only worked to match the lyricism of the book, or buttress it. I have every faith you will read this book. You just need "other" than a Bug reco to dive in. I think, in this case, if you look at my review, and perhaps compare it to some that just plainly rehash the plot, then hopefully mine will have some weight. Bug

In reply to an earlier post on May 22, 2012 11:21:13 PM PDT
Thank you, John!

I loved his Bascombe books but this protagonist is less self-conscious, younger, open to anything. Epic book!


In reply to an earlier post on May 23, 2012 5:03:07 AM PDT
Not playing down your review at all, Bug. But when you review in your lyrical style, it means that you have been attracted primarily by the lyrical writing, which is seldom enough for me, other than in poetry and very short prose works. Which means that I have to look elsewhere to see if the book has many of the other qualities that generally do attract me. As you suggested, I read all the other reviews here, but nothing comes out that makes me want to jump on board. Roger.

In reply to an earlier post on May 23, 2012 5:10:16 AM PDT
Roger-I understand exactly what you mean. What I can say about the story itself is that it was epic, emotionally compelling, and full of philosophical ideas that tie in.


In reply to an earlier post on May 23, 2012 6:56:30 AM PDT
PS--I re-read my review, and I do believe that within the form I chose to write it, I did a decent job of describing the book, the themes, some of the main characters. I was careful not to include any spoilers, including the name of the narrator. Bug

In reply to an earlier post on May 23, 2012 7:05:55 AM PDT
Bug, what is the point of writing a review? To get others to read the book, or to give them a sense of whether they would like it for themselves? I would hope the latter. You have conveyed an excellent sense of why YOU like it, and told me a lot about the book as well. That is what I would call a successful review. Whether or not you get ME to like it is neither here nor there. But I do have all I need to make up my own mind, and if I miss out on it, it is certainly no fault of yours. Roger.
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Location: Austin, Texas

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