Richard Ford’s “Canada” is the first of his books that I have read, but it will not be the last. An author in the grand tradition of Franzen in his description of family dysfunction, he writes a slow moving and subtle book, emphasizing the inner workings of his character’s mind and his difficult coming of age story rather than the intricacies of plotting.
Dell Parsons is the teenage son of Neeva and Bev Parsons and twin brother of Berner Parsons whose life story is grandly dramatic and worthy of a fast-moving pulp fiction thriller. Dell’s life falls apart one summer in Montana as his parents make a giant foolish leap into criminality and fail spectacularly. He is cast from the proverbial frying pan into the fire in his “escape” to Canada. Within the broad and grand sweep of this story, the author details his protagonist in small steady brush strokes. The first couple of hundred pages are very slow as Dell prepares for high school in his little town and talks about his family, his surroundings and small day to day events and descriptions. Taken at the pace the author sets, it’s like watching a train wreck in super-slow motion. Richard Ford sets this up cleverly, telling us the most important dramatic details right up front in the first few sentences.
This book falls short on a few counts and succeeds in others. It needed some self-discipline to plod through the first couple of hundred pages which are slow and meandering. For the more impatient modern reader, 200+ pages of slow moving storyline could be a deal-breaker. However, the second half of the book had me completely hooked, so the discipline of working my way through the slow first half paid off amply in the end.
The book’s great success is in describing a “regular” adolescent faced with “irregular” life experiences and painting a clear, believable picture of the protagonist that resonated with me as the reader. The poignant contrast of the melodramatic events in the plot and the protagonist’s calm and matter of fact narration are masterful.
Author: Richard Ford
Publisher: Ecco Press
Publication Date: June 2012
Contributor: Seema Varma is an avid reader – mystery, fantasy, literary fiction.