Canada by Richard Ford

Jean-Louis’ Adult Fiction Pick

(Ecco Press, 2012)

Richard Ford is one of the great American writers of his time and when he puts out a book entitled, Canada, how can you resist picking it up. The novel is told by Dell Parsons, a teacher who is about to cross the divide into retirement.

The entire novel is about divides and borders. Dell is giving an account of his life and how he has come to Canada from Great Falls, Montana. And if that town isn’t a real place, the name itself is a great metaphor for what happens to young Dell’s family. Right at the beginning of the story we are told that Dell’s parents robbed a bank and that somewhere along the path, murders are also committed. The story is a calm walk through the events of his life as retiring Dell follows the great fall that marks his family forever.

Ford’s writing is rich in description and aggravatingly controlled. Young Dell is small for his age and seemingly without agency as he has been brought up in a highly disfunctional household. Dell is a twin whose “older” sister Berner is a kind of reflection of his own self. Bev Parsons, his father is a former air force member who never fully reintegrates into civilian society and his mother Neeva is the daughter of Jewish emigrees who finds hereself in a marriage that is ill-suited to her. All the characters of the novel find themselves in situations they seem unable to change.

Upon his exile in Saskatchewan young Dell is left to determine his way forward in life. Accomodation, adaptation, reinvention–all are attempted in this life lived across borders.

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