Protagonist Dell Parsons states in the very opening lines, “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.” Author Richard Ford lets the reader know in advance that this book isn’t about the actual events so much as the psychology surrounding these crimes. It’s a bit of a risky move, because Dell’s slow and introspective narration makes many of the book’s passages excessively tedious.
Dell’s parents are the ones who, in an act of desperation, rob a bank (and not very successfully). Dell spends the first half of the book describing his family and how they reached this point. Once his parents are in jail, Dell is whisked across the border into Canada by a friend of his mother’s. She delivers Dell to her brother and unintentionally puts him in the care of yet another criminal.
But Canada—a boring and unremarkable title—is not about the action of the plot but the motivation behinds those actions. Some of Ford’s writing is reminiscent of John Irving (especially his 2009 novel Last Night in Twisted River) with many instances of foreshadowing and repetition of phrases. Ford also presents some very intriguing thematic elements (that I’m sure book clubs will get a kick out of discussing). But the naïveté of Dell—as he addresses and examines those elements—grows tiresome, especially when it’s combined with future Dell’s narration and justification.
There are definitely some gems in Canada, and the overall themes in the book give it a place in literature. It just requires too much trudging through the duller parts of the book to make this a truly spectacular novel.
- Canada by Richard Ford (guardian.co.uk)
- AmeriCanadiana: How our country inspired Richard Ford’s latest novel (arts.nationalpost.com)
- REVIEW: Canada by Richard Ford (Guest Blogger: Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach) (booktopia.com.au)
- Across the Border: Richard Ford’s Canada (themillions.com)