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.

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23 thoughts on “Canada by Richard Ford

      • It’s a wonderful library, also with a multilingual Press room and a specialist cinema l’Institut de l’image which has a theme each month, this month it’s l’Odyssée du cinéma grec. Enjoy your visit and do visit the library, there is a great view from the top of the Grand Théâtre de Provence, on your way there. And check out our one English bookstore called Book & Bar on rue Joseph Cabassol, just off the cours Mirabeau, tea and coffee served in the bookshop.

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  1. I admire so much about the way you meditate on what you read, and the way that your critiques open up a work and let it breathe — your comments never reduce or “shut down” conversation about a work. Beautiful. May I have permission to quote (with credit) the following on an upcoming blog post of mine I am developing?

    “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.”

    Thank you!

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    • Thank you Niki for your kind words and by all means, use those few words – thank you for highlighting them back to me, it’s like reading them afresh from a distance when someone relates to something I’ve written, meanderings of the mind that they are, dancing on the page.

      I am looking forward to Shadows & Wings immensely, bonne chance!

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    • It sounds like you have had some wonderful opportunities to listen to authors speak Diane, I can imagine that listening to Richard Ford read that first chapter would have been truly engaging, he certainly writes in a compelling way and even though we know in advance what is going to happen, he still manages to create suspense leading up to events, all those thoughts conspiring to create a considered build-up. A grand talent indeed.

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  2. Very nice review. I remember hearing about this book when it came out (last year?) but then it sort of fell off my radar screen. Thanks for bringing it back on — it sounds like a book I might enjoy.

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  3. What I consider my comfort zone I’m pretty respectful of at this point. I’m very skittish around novels where a child is harmed, although somehow I made it through The Lovely Bones. Others, I’ve closed it and walked away.

    I could never read a work by Shakespeare, it would feel like splitting rocks for eight hours a day. At this stage of life, most of what I read is authored by women. I read a lot of stuff by men earlier in life, and women tend to be short-changed in literature as in most things. I wish to read what my sisters create and have to say.

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    • Good to hear Nelle, I like your supportive reading intentions, I’m with you on that. I’ve never retrospectively analysed what I have read, men versus women, the sex of the author isn’t so much a criteria for me, I do think that women’s fiction is gaining ascension this century, no longer waiting to be recognised by men or male reviewers, they are getting on with it, so many of the blogs I read are written by women and surveys suggest women read more than twice as much as men, I love that Persephone Books are doing so well, bringing back so many out of print women writers from the last century and gathering such a great following. I like to read a women’s perspective on books written by men as well (something that is rare in literary reviews), it just seems more balanced.

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  4. Sounds like a very interesting book, might have to pick this one up for myself. And I agree, I always try to read outside of my preferred book when I can just to add to the diversity.

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  5. Ford’s style is spare though I think he says a lot with it – a particular nuance of a character or what might seem like a casual description can often say much. His short stories are very good – I recommend ‘Rock Springs’ in particular.

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  6. Wonderful review, Claire! When I saw the title I thought that the book was probably like a James Michener novel, a sweeping saga about the history of a country. But after reading your review, I realized that it was more than that. I liked very much what you said about what the title meant. I also liked your observation that our reading narrows down with age. I think that is very true. It is interesting to get out of our reading comfort zone and see what is out there, as you like doing. Thanks for this interesting review!

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