Book Review: Canada, Richard Ford (HarperCollins, 2012)

canada-hc-c-1 Richard Ford won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize  for his novel, Independence Day (Knopf, 1995). Canada was his most recent release two years ago when I picked up this title. It had taken a few attempts for me to start and finish this book but i’m glad I finally did.

Like many of the authors I appreciate, Ford creates an engaging depth of character and richness of time and place. Canada is set partly in Montana and partly in Saskatchewan in the 1950’s. Ford’s research and ability with detail brought them vividly to life.

One of the distinguishing qualities of Ford’s storytelling is his playfulness with timelines. He used to satisfying effect, a non-linear narrative that started with the end and invested most of the storytelling in the journey of how it came to be. This was not only true for the overall arc of the story but also for subplots within the book. There was anticipation and suspense but it was often followed by a plot revelation much earlier than the reader expected. These tactics somehow made the book more enjoyable to read, as if the author was giving us a break from the long work of getting through the story.

Written in three parts, the book transforms from an immersion in character and place to a faster-paced thriller — not the Ludlum variety but the stakes do get higher and the pages start turning faster in the latter half of the second part.

In this excerpt, the protagonist, Del Parsons, describes the experience of he and his sister, Berner, in their hometown of Great Falls Montana, after their parents’ arrest for bank robbery:

It’s a good measure of how insignificant we were, and of the kind of place Great Falls was, that no one came to see about us, or to get us and transport us to someplace safe. No juvenile authorities. No police. No guardians to take responsibility for our welfare. No one ever searched the house while I was there. And when no one does that — notices you — then people and things quickly get forgotten and drift away. Which is what we did. My father was wrong about many things; but about Great Falls he wasn’t. People there didn’t want to know us. They were willing to let us disappear if we would.

Berner and I walked home that Monday by a different route. We felt different now — possibly we each felt freer in our own way. We walked up to Central past the post office and down toward the river, along by the bars and pawn shops, a bowling alley, the Rexall, and the hobby shop where I’d bought my chess men and my bee magazines. The street was bustling and noisy with traffic. But, again, I didn’t feel anyone staring at us. School hadn’t started. We weren’t out of place. A boy and his sister walking back across the bridge in the sunny breeze, the river sweet and rank on a late morning in August — no one would think: These are those kids whose parents went to jail. They need to be looked after and protected.

Canada, chapter 38

I’m glad I stuck with this book through my many fits and starts. It’s a testament to the richness of character that allowed me to come back to it after many months of being away and reading on without much need for review.

Richard Ford’s newest book, Let Me Be Frank with You (Ecco/Harper Collins) is a collection of four novellas set during Hurricane Sandy. It is set to release in November 2014.