Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Oh, Canada!

If you've ever wondered what manner of writing is worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, please look no further than Richard Ford. I've always been a fan of the Bascombe novels but when I gently closed the pages on his latest novel Canada, I was speechless. This stunningly gorgeous book simply brought me to my knees.

The irony is that, based upon all those qualities that ostensibly draw a reader to a book, you know, setting, character, subject, I would never even pick up a novel set in Montana about a couple of kids whose parents, a mismatched pair if ever there was one, have been arrested for a bank robbery. I read this book based upon the author's reputation alone.

From the first page, the voice of the youngster, Dell Parsons, appeals in a visceral way. I felt the need to hug him, often and hard. Interestingly, I had the same urge with John Irving's wonderful young narrator Billy Abbott. Dell and Billy have abandonment issues in common and tend to review and speak about their lives with a clear-eyed matter of factness that the reader accepts as completely true, not exaggerated or embellished in any way.

Dell and his twin sister Berner were only fifteen years old when their folks did the unthinkable. Dad is retired Air Force, hail fellow, well met, a blustery salesman. Mom is an inscrutable, introspective school teacher. Bonnie and Clyde they are not!. And yet, consequences be damned, they cross the state line, approach a teller with a gun, take only enough to get them out of the mess they're in, and return to await their fate.

How this action, the events leading up to it and the ripples that emanate from it for years to come, affects the siblings is at the heart of this achingly poignant novel. How Richard Ford turns what could be a sordid tale into a soaring literary gem is remarkable. How Dell and Berner differ in their responses to their parents' betrayal of their innocence, their youth, their futures, is a fascinating psychological study.

And then there's Canada itself, Saskatchewan in particular. Every sentence paints a vivid picture of the remote, endless landscape, the loneliness, the harsh, long winters, the lack of color, the unknowableness of a land perfectly formed to act as a hiding place for those running from the law or from themselves. Thank you Mr. Ford for allowing Dell to find refuge in a place where he could have been lost.

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