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Canada Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 22, 2012
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“This is a brilliant and engrossing portrait of a fragile American family and the fragile consciousness of a teenage boy. It is also fascinating in the way it reveals the plot in the opening page and then winds backwards, offering a more and more intimate version of the story.” (Colm Toibin)
“Pure vocal grace, quiet humor, precise and calm observation.” (The New Yorker)
“[Canada]confirms his position as one of the finest stylists and most humane storytellers in America… his most elegiac and profound book…” (Washington Post)
“Robust and powerful… Ford is able to tap into something momentous and elemental about the profound moral chaos behind the actions of seemingly responsible people… Ford has dramatized the frightening discovery of the world’s anarchic heart.” (Wall Street Journal)
“A triumph of voice.... The writing... is spare, but heartbreaking.” (USA Today)
“Richard Ford returns with one of his most powerful novels yet…Ford has never written better…Canada is Richard Ford’s best book since Independence Day, and despite its robbery and killings it too depends on its voice, a voice oddly calm and marked by the spare grandeur of its landscape.” (Daily Beast)
“Awe-inspiring… The laconic, grief-stricken voice of Dell, looking back on his past, trying to make some kind sense of what happened when his family imploded, keeps you turning pages, as do the quiet, thought-provoking revelations that Ford drops in throughout.” (O, the Oprah Magazine)
“Told in Ford’s exquisitely detailed, unhurried prose…Ford is interested here in the ways snap decisions can bend life in unexpected directions... Canada’s characters grapple with this... and the answers they come up with define the rest of their lives, along with this quietly thoughtful book.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Masterly… in Ford’s American tragedy, filled with lost innocence and inevitable violence—a rusting carnival, a rabbit caught in a coyote’s jaws—geography feels a lot like fate.” (Vogue)
“One of the most memorably heartbreaking novels of the year.” (Christian Science Monitor)
“[Ford’s] newest novel Canada, shows an artist in full command of his craft—sparsely elegant and bracingly direct, with a refreshing lack of irony or tricks.” (Men’s Journal)
“Marvelous…Canada is a masterpiece of a story with rich language and dialogue filled with suspense, bleakness, human frailties and flaws, and a little bit of hope seen through the eyes of an adolescent boy whose emotions seem often aligned with the desolate landscape of its setting.” (The Oregonian (Portland))
“A must-read. . . . Canada reminds us why Ford is considered one of this country’s most distinguished writers.” (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
“[A] deeply felt and magnificently imagined work…With Canada, Ford has given us his deepest exploration yet of weakness and betrayal set amid a boy’s coming of age. It is a memorable novel, suffused with love, sorrow and regret.” (Austin American-Statesman)
“[A] novel about big truths told by a writer with clear vision…solid, satisfying craftsmanship. This is a Richard Ford novel in the tradition of his earlier work. It also is a coming-of-age story, and a story about the discovery of identity.” (Washington Independent Review of Books)
From the Back Cover
"First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later."
When fifteen-year-old Dell Parsons' parents rob a bank, his sense of normal life is forever altered. In an instant, this private cataclysm drives his life into before and after, a threshold that can never be uncrossed.
His parents' 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 a better life. There, afloat on the prairie of Saskatchewan, Dell is taken in by Arthur Remlinger, an enigmatic and charismatic American whose cool reserve masks 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. But his search for grace and peace only moves him nearer to a harrowing and murderous collision with Remlinger, an elemental force of darkness.
A true masterwork of haunting and spectacular vision from one of our greatest writers, Canada is a profound novel of boundaries traversed, innocence lost and reconciled, and the mysterious and consoling bonds of family. Told in spare, elegant prose, both resonant and luminous, it is destined to become a classic.
Top customer reviews
Sadly, his twin sister was unable to achieve her peace until almost the end of her life. Apparently, she didn't possess that inner core of self-awareness that bolstered Dell throughout all that ensued in their lives. Somehow, I believe she found what she needed as she faced her death and came to an understanding of her life.
And so it is with Dell Parsons, the narrator of Richard Ford’s somber and thoughtfully provocative latest novel, Canada. While we might, for a moment, think the plot revolves around his parents’ ruefully clumsy bank robbery, it does not. Illicit and unlawful activities only serve to illustrate the basic unforgiving nature of nature and life. Yet the bank robbery, which changes the lives of Dell and his twin sister, Berner, is more aptly characterized by his comment, “blaming your parents for your life’s difficulties finally leads nowhere.” As we learn, nothing really leads anywhere. We’re dust in the wind.
Ford creates an intimate view into the lives of both Dell and Berner, their father Bev and Neeva, their Jewish mother. Bev and Neeva’s marriage is yet another example of the random acts of people: she has married outside her faith, into a different social caste, and they are an uncomfortable pairing. Even so, Ford characterizes two people striving almost senselessly for some kind of fulfillment under the dreary shroud of determinism. The parents’ ennui is not lost on Dell, nor on Berner.
The story is set in characteristically naturalistic Montana in the 1960s, which exemplifies the bleakness of the environment and that vaguely puzzling era between the end of World War II and the assassination of JFK when it seemed as if the country was holding its breath, waiting to see what would happen next. That mood is intensified by the shift in focus to a timeless, even more bleak, even more unforgiving Canada, where nothing has changed since forever and where, we learn, nothing much changed thereafter. The world of Ford’s novel is either dying or just plain dead, which makes it all the more difficult to define and exert one’s free will. Bev seems to think he can master his fate. Neeva sits quietly, hoping her life will somehow right itself without her effort. Berner senses things are wrong but longs only for escape. Her brother observes, records, but lacks the wherewithal to interpret or place anything that’s occurring into a perspective upon which he can act in his own behalf. Dust in the wind. His childish innocence portrays the absence of an ability to shape any kind of moral compass, sensibility or philosophy of how to be in the world. Dust in the wind.
Canada is not a novel to gobble down like a fast-food burger. It is not an action-oriented story, although it is filled with portentous events that, again, characterize its naturalism. It moves inexorably through Dell’s life at age fifteen years, which he portrays as if writing a personal journal or diary. Dell apparently wants to remember and describe each event in detail; we want to know why that is so, but he won’t tell us. He writes as if he were a newspaper reporter: objective, detached, with no attempt to imbue events with meaning. In the final pages we meet him fifty years on, still trying to get a grip on what it all meant and struggling with his inability to assert himself. But even as we see him play out his reunion with Berner, even as we hear him speak of his staid life and his vapid accomplishments, we see only Eliot’s hollow man, the one for whom we ache because his worldview is so painfully myopic- and it’s not his fault. Berner, near her own death, asks, “You feel like you’ve had a wonderful life?” Dell says, “I accept it. I accept it all.” She replies, “We all accept it. That’s not an answer. …What choice do we have?”
Canada is a somber novel, one that gave me cause to reflect on the Sisyphean nature of life. Although free will is an illusion; because we have no real control over our lives; since there is no higher power guiding us through life, toward either fate or meaning: given that the idea of randomness (a concept so deeply embraced by millennials, although one wonders if the really understand it), is what imbues life, the universe and everything, what is one to make of a mournful story such as Dell’s? Can we close the book and think, “No, that’s not the way I want my life to go. Here’s what I would have done differently.” But Dell understands that at least for him, there was no different way. Should we pity him? He does not engage in self-pity. He does not mourn his parents nor grieve his sister; rather, thinks of them, and of his and their lives, as, quoting the essayist John Ruskin, “the arrangement of unequal things.”
That pretty much says it all: Dell Parson’s life is devoid of meaning or purpose, except that’s a bitter pill. We live. Random things happen to us. Maybe they’re meaningful, but then again maybe they’re not. We die. That’s all. That’s all?
In my favor, I am retired, and had the luxury of taking my time to savor every word. This is a book you should invest the time in to get the full enjoyment out. For those who don't have the time, read something else. I liked it.