four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
59-July-Aug-2012
By: 
Richard Ford
user_rating: 
0

756861.pngRichard Ford is best known for his Frank Bascombe trilogy, whose second volume, Independence Day (1995), about middle-class life in the late 20th century, won the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Reviewed: The Lay of the Land ( 3 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2007).

The Story: "First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later." Thus Dell Parsons, a retired high school English teacher, reflects back on his life and the events that changed it forever. In 1960, 15-year-old Dell and his twin sister, Berner, live with their mismatched parent‚ a Polish-Jewish mother, Neeva, and her handsome, down-on-her luck Southern husband, Bev, a former air force pilot‚ in Great Falls, Montana. When out of desperation Bev concocts a plan to rob a bank, he and Neeva go to jail. Berner flees their home, abandoning Dell, while Dell is whisked away to Canada to live with Arthur Remlinger. But life with this dark, mysterious man becomes even more unsettling than the events that brought Dell to him‚ and leads to the "murders, which happened later."
Ecco. 432 pages. $27.99. ISBN: 9780061692048

Guardian (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Ford] writes with deliberate flatness, eschewing stylistic flourishes‚ except when describing North American landscapes‚ so that Dell speaks in the cadences of a permanently damaged spirit. The final encounter at the close of the book between Dell and Berner is one of the most tenderly drawn scenes in modern literature, and could only have been written by a writer of Richard Ford's empathy, insight and technical mastery." John Banville

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4 of 5 Stars
"There is a sure-footed, plain-spoken quality to Ford's language that is pitch perfect for the tale being told, as well as for creating the atmosphere of the landscape, both physical and emotional, with which Dell must come to terms. In face of its drama, a book like Canada‚ dignified, gracefully attired and conspicuously understated‚ is a procession, not a parade." Jane Urquhart

Toronto Star 4 of 5 Stars
"Ford has built his peerless reputation writing a uniquely proprietary version of the common man, one who resists the examined life with amiable taciturnity, who views regret as a waste of time. Ford writes the kind of marooned-on-a-desert-island books that force you to question why you need to read anyone else …" Emily Donaldson

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Always a careful craftsman, Ford has polished the plainspoken lines of Canada to an arresting sheen. He's working somewhere between Marilynne Robinson (without the theology) and Cormac McCarthy (without the gore). The wisdom he offers throughout these pages can be heard in the hushed silence that follows this harrowing tale." Ron Charles

Kansas City Star 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While his past crops up through correspondence and when he, as an old man, meets his dying sister and receives their mother's life ‚Äòchronicle,'s the book remains fractured by its events‚ an appropriate structure for a life diverted from its ‚Äònormal's course onto an unrecognizable path. The ambiguity of Dell's interaction with fate shows the mark of a talented writer who allows uncertainty to linger in the space following the novel's conclusion." Nicholas Sawin

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Canada owes its gradually accumulating power to Dell's compelling narrative voice. [A] bleak, but strangely beautiful, novel." Harvey Freedenberg

Houston Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Though he says he's never accepted ‘defeat and destiny,'s [Dell] floats through Canada like flotsam and jetsam. One wishes young literary heroes such as Jim Hawkins (Treasure Island) or Mattie Ross (True Grit) were around to push Dell into doing something more than just bearing witness to his predicament." Conrad Bibens

Critical Summary

"Although it is too early to do so, one is tempted to acclaim [Canada] a masterpiece," writes the Guardian critic. About loneliness, violence, and family dysfunction, the novel returns to the Montana landscape of Ford's first short story collection, Rock Springs (1987). Though his characters (particularly the ordinary Bev and Neeva, who find themselves in terrible circumstances) shine as brightly as characters in previous novels, the story here is flatter and bleaker, but no less resonant. It "boasts an almost proud disdain for suspense," notes the Washington Post, and forsakes literary pyrotechnics for "raw, natural elegance and understanding." Though readers may have to suspend belief at certain points, and others may wish for the story to move along more quickly, Canada is that rare novel: dignified, understated, and, above all, powerful.