Richard Ford’s latest published novel, Canada, [London: Bloomsbury, 2012] is narrated in retrospect by the 66-year old Dell Parsons and Ford has developed the art of introductory appetite whetting to perfection as is evident in the very first paragraph.
First, I’ll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the course they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first.
Dell’s parents are mismatched. He’s an all-American southern boy with a good war record in the USAAF and she is Jewish. It’s a wartime romance that led to a pregnancy which the parents legitimised by marrying before the arrival of their twins, Dell and his sister Berner – yes, an odd name but that is just grist for Ford’s literary mill which grinds finely and bakes a near perfect cake.
When, demobilised and drifting into Great Falls, Montana, father Bev Parsons gets into trouble selling cattle meat to the railroad on behalf of the Indian rustlers and butchers, he manages to persuade his otherwise intelligent wife that robbing a bank across the State Line in North Dakota is the easy way to solve all their problems, the troubles for the 15-year old twins, as well as their parents, are only just beginning. Within days, the parents are arrested and the mother’s plans for the children go into action. She wants both spirited away up north into Canada, out of harm’s way but Berner runs away and only Dell finishes up in very remote Fort Royal, Saskatchewan, nominally under the eye of, and in the care of, another American expatriate and fugitive, Arthur Remlinger. How does he fell about this? Read the first paragraph of chapter 45.
Loneliness, I’ve read, is like being in a long line, waiting to reach the front where it’s promised something good will happen. Only the line never moves, and other people are always coming ahead of you, and the front, the place where you want to be, is always farther and farther away, until you no longer believe it has anything to offer you.
Like Ford’s other narrator in the Frank Bascombe trilogy, Dell Parsons has a combination of introspection, self-doubt and a love of language that makes the words flow smoothly off the page and, to me, it matters not a whit that the tension and the sense of predestination build and build right up to the turning point less than twenty-five pages from the end. Part Three is a beautifully written coda, easing readers back down nearer the ground and into the present day, but the journey of the first two parts has taken the reader into the depths of his or her own soul.
Over the last few months, I’ve read four of Ford’s novels and it delights me to see there are at least six others to read. Verdict on Canada: 8.5 out of 10.