Monday, September 5, 2016

Canada by Richard Ford

 A couple's foolish decision affects the lives of their children

The story of a mismatched pair’s brief career as bank robbers is narrated by their son, fifteen year old Dell Parsons, who lives in Great Falls, Montana with his parents and twin sister Berner.  Dell is shy, still physically a boy, loving school and longing for a well ordered life.   He has begun to study chess and beekeeping, imagining participating in those clubs as a freshman, eager to embark upon his new mature life.  However, his parents’s almost immediate arrest after their ill conceived scheme sends his and Berner’s life spinning off into other, more dangerous, directions.

I loved this recursive novel – the story is tentatively painted, then repainted, using foreshadowing and suspense.  Right from the beginning Dell tell us what the story will be about.  The novel is a meditation on chance, how a stupid decision can derail your life and the lives of those you love.  Many chapters end with:  And I never saw him, her, it again.  The novel was much longer than average, but the storytelling gripped me.  The surprises are effectively doled out, especially the surprise of the mother’s fate.  Themes reoccur – the bees, the bell on the Lutheran Church, Niagara Falls.  The casual cruelties of the townspeople are shocking, as well as the life changing kindness of a stranger.

The book is split into two halves, recreating the same situation – an older man, unable to recognize the boy’s innocence, trying to draw Dell into a crime.  The sorrow of losing the parents and their replacement by other much more imperfect parents.  I was trying to figure out why I loved this so much, and I think ultimately it was the characters – they were fully three dimensional and memorable, at least a dozen of them.  And they all are just trying to do the best they can.

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