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Canada Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 22, 2012
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Frequently while gazing down at people in our local newspaper who have been arrested for a crime, I wonder about how their lives unfolded to lead them to such actions and also how it has very likely caused harm or distress to people close to them, especially kids. Mr. Ford's 'Canada' creates a very believable tale about the twins being left behind because of their parents' screw-ups. Dell yearns for stability where he can stay in one location instead of their peripatetic lifestyle and simply attend school. However, his dad, who is not one of the world's brighter bulbs on the planet though he thinks he is, jumps from one American Dream scheme to another without success. None of the people who inhabit the author's world view themselves as bad people.
I suggest the reader be patient while reading the novel. The first two parts recall Dell's thoughts and feelings as a fifteen year old, but the third section involves events occurring when he is sixty-six. After the climax of the murder in the second part, the third section was the big payoff for me. These are people on the margins of life. They are not mean unethical layabouts but folks attempting to either make do or improve their situations. Dell's thoughts are of a person with more years behind him than lie ahead. Speaking as a man closing in on sixty, Mr. Ford's story resonated with my own feelings about the human condition. I'm not sure if 'Canada' would have the same emotional impact for most young adults. The novel was thought-provoking and will stay with me long after I finished it.
Basically in 1960 Dell Parson's parents rob a bank in North Dakota to pay off some Native Americans. The most implausible part is that no one takes the kids when the parents are arrested; they're just left there to fend for themselves even though they're 15. I don't think that would happen even in 1960 in a small Montana town. Most likely they'd have gone to the police station until a social worker could take them to an orphanage. But anyway, the book is called Canada because Dell ends up in Saskatchewan, in an even worse town than the one in Montana.
The idea of fleeing to Canada to start a new life would have had a lot more impact back in 1968 or so with the Vietnam War in full swing and people going to Canada to avoid the draft. In 2013 it comes off as quaint.
It's one of those novels too where the author uses a narrator who is probably the least interesting character in the book. This only works when the characters around that character are far more interesting, which is just not the case here. (It's the case in Where You Belong (None))
Anyway, for what it is the book is well written, but it really felt to me like a book out of time. I suspect the only reason the book takes place so long in the past is that's the time period the author is familiar with as a teenager. I think we're about at the point where a book taking place in 1960 would be considered "historical fiction" akin to a book about Henry VIII. Sorry, septuagenarian authors but your golden days of yore are ancient history.
That is all.