Nope, I’m not traveling to Canada too. This is the Richard Ford book, recommended to me by the booksellers at the lovely Parnassus Books in Nashville, a few months ago. (Incidentally, that’s the place where I picked up “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” easily one of the best books I’ve read in years, and one that, regrettably, has yet to get a post on this blog.)
“Canada” is a slow-moving book about a young man whose parents rob a bank and go to jail, leaving him and his sister to fend for themselves. It’s heavy on evocative prose and light on plot. Usually that’s not my style, but in this case, I generally enjoyed the book.
First of all, I’m a sucker for western writing. And by western writing, in this instance I would include Canada, where the story, quite obviously, takes the reader. One of my favorite books ever reviewed on this blog was “Lean on Pete,” another story about an orphaned young man who roams the northwest and west in search of something. It could be that the north and west is largely unexplored territory for a midwesterner like me. Or it could be that I’m just your typical American, who regularly stares westward and longs for a big sky, open road, and scores of other overused cliches. Either way, Ford’s writing captures that ethos.
Del Parsons, the young man, isn’t exactly the kid who can build a house with sticks or convince others that he is something he’s not. He’s timid and at times, he seems overcome by the circumstances. (Not that he shouldn’t be–as this good review states, “horrible things” happen to him.) He’s never particularly happy in the book. I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for the poor lad. His sister is an engaging character, more of a free spirit than Del, despite the fact they are twins. She abandons Del midway through the novel, and she’s missed until the end.
Like I mentioned, the story unfolds slowly, with repeated references to a robbery that we are sure to find out about. For much of the book, that robbery and the resulting arrest of Del’s parents is merely on the horizon, a shadow of doom up ahead. Del eventually is brought to Canada, where he meets an American living in a small town. The book jacket describes the American, Arthur Remlinger, as “enigmatic,” but mostly I found him annoying and stereotypical. In an attempt to inject a true plot, Ford bestows a mysterious background on Remlinger, and as that background comes clear, Del is caught up in resolving said mystery. On the whole, this plot is thin and unsatisfying.
Ford is writing about Canada but also about a place where someone can go to become someone else or start over. Crossing the border and deciding to stay there is a monumental experience for the young man, and it’s a central metaphor in the book.
Despite my criticisms about the thin plot and slow pace, I would still recommend this book to some of you. By some, I mean those who would be more interested by artful and deliberate writing than a rousing and brisk plot. Ford deserves accolades here for the writing, period.
Thanks for reading.