Canada by Richard Ford

A recommendation from my like-minded, book loving Aunt, I was fortunate to pick this up at our library, a wonderful facility, though only a few bookshelves dedicated to works in English, so to find a recently published book was a real find.

Bibliotheque Mejanes, Our Library in Aix-en-Provence

Bibliothèque Méjanes,
The Entrance to our Library in Aix-en-Provence

Richard Ford is a familiar name for many, a Pulitzer prize-winning author for his book Independence Day, however he is an author I was not thus far acquainted with.

Canada is a coming of age novel written from the perspective of Dell, a 15-year-old twin, whose sister Bernie is on the verge of asserting her independence, something she is ready to do, unlike Dell, who is more of a ‘wait and see’ type of individual, though even this more submissive attitude doesn’t occur without serious consideration of all the alternatives. Regardless of whether he is ever likely to pursue those thoughts, he considers them before watching them pass, pondering how they may have changed the course of events, though rarely if ever acting on them.

The course of these siblings’ ordinary lives is altered drastically when their father, aided by their mother, decides to rob a bank to pay a supplier when his middleman status finds him stuck in between having delivered the goods and not having been paid as agreed.

The first part of the book is Dell’s recollection of the events of those weeks surrounding ‘the event that would change their lives’ with a little of the wisdom of hindsight and the knowledge he has gained from subsequently reading his mother’s journal (fifty years later).

Saskatchewan Ghost Town by R Smith @ominocity

Saskatchewan Ghost Town by R Smith @ominocity

In Part Two, Dell is at the mercy of his mother’s plan for the children to go to Canada, while the parents are in prison, only Dell departs alone; he believes he is going to stay with the brother of his mother’s friend Mildred and so begins his life ‘after the event that changed his life’.

No longer attending school, he assists a man named Charley with preparations for goose hunting and cleaning rooms at the hotel owned by Mildred’s brother, while living in an almost ghost town somewhere in Saskatchewan.

Richard Ford is an adept writer, a straight forward storyteller and reading his work reminds me a little of Jonathan Franzen’s way of writing. His use of language is plain, spare and as a consequence there are few sentences or paragraphs that I have highlighted, few metaphors, except perhaps the title, though perhaps being one word it is more of a symbol than a metaphor. Canada is the frontier, another country, another life, another citizen.

Canada1While he doesn’t coat his words with poetic language, Ford in the literary tradition, delves deep into the mind and thoughts of his protagonist, sharing events in a stream of consciousness narration. Dell methodically dissects everything that happens around him referencing the recent past in relation to what happens, the things he may have realised with hindsight but didn’t. It is a psychological journey into the mind of a 15-year-old sharing thoughts of himself and others around him leading up to and during those two events that changed everything.

I can’t make what follows next seem reasonable or logical, based on what anyone would believe they knew about the world. However, as Arthur Remlinger said, I was the son of bank robbers and desperadoes, which was his way of reminding me that no matter the evidence of your life, or who you believe you are, or what you’re willing to take credit for or draw your vital strength and pride from–anything at all can follow anything at all.

As such, not much happens, but the storytelling remains compelling, as he comes to understand the motivations of those around him and who they really are, preparing himself for what they are about to do. In the first part the bank robbery, preparing him for what will happen when he crosses the frontier.

The more we read, the more we come to understand what our preferences are, what we adore, what we find difficult to tolerate and as a result it could be said our reading narrows with age, because we come to know ourselves and our inclinations better, we become a better judge of whether a book is likely to meet that desire or not. That is one of the reasons a book-club can be so interesting, often forcing us to read outside our comfort zone and showing us the many responses to the same book, all equally valid. I know I don’t just read for pleasure, I am often curious to read outside my preferred style of book, and across cultures and language not wishing to be limited to only that which is written in the English language or tradition.

I enjoyed Richard Ford’s Canada and look forward to reading more of his work.