by Richard Ford
Canada is an unusual book, not least in its title. There is one brief reference to Canada in Part One and the action does not move to Canada until Part Two, by which time you are half way through the book!
The narrator, Dell begins by telling the reader that he is going to start by telling us about the robbery his parents committed, then the murders, which happened later.
The first half of the book is about the relationships between the family members, particularly his apparently mismatched parents, and also himself and his twin sister, Berner. It goes on the explain how his very ‘ordinary’ parents came to the point where they decided to rob a bank.
Like all children Dell assumes that his family is made up of normal people he finds it shocking that his parents could be bank robbers, as though they should be a recognisable ‘different category’ of human beings. They just made a wrong decision, were unlucky and drifted into it! There is naturally tension between the fifteen year old Dell’s ability to understand and that of the adult writing years later with the benefit of hindsight and maturity.
Their father, Bev, ex air-force, struggles to adjust to civilian life after the war but is always upbeat,easy going and optimistic. Neeva, their mother; shy, artistic and from a totally different background, that of an educated, immigrant, Jewish family, is insular and discourages the children from making friends or mixing.
When his happy-go-lucky approach to a bit of wheeler-dealing ends up with him
getting into debt, to the wrong people, Bev decides that the solution is to rob a bank!
After their parents are arrested a family friend arrives to take the children away before they fall into the hands of the authorities. Berner decides to run off but Dell is smuggled into Canada and a strange new life in the care of Arthur Remlinger, himself an exile from the USA.
Everyone seems to be where they are because of some kind of external threat or circumstance. Bev and Neeva married because Neeva was pregnant. Bev is just not successful at making a living in civilian life and therefore gets involved in criminal activities. He is encouraged by the fact that similar actions during his service years had worked successfully, ignoring the difference in circumstances, mainly that in the air-force everyone knew what was going on and turned a blind-eye, to the benefit of all involved.
The children feel threatened by the juvenile services and their mother has already taken steps to avoid them falling into their care, reinforcing their belief that it is to be avoided at all costs.
Arthur Remlinger lives in fear of being held responsible for a foolish act that ended in tragedy in his anarchistic youth. He clearly has something on Charley who works for him.
Dell wants to go to school. He wants an education and the chance to make something of himself but his youth and lack of experience mean that he does not know how he is going to make that happen in the back-water that where he finds himself.
It is a coming of age novel in which the central character is surrounded by adults whose own personal and emotional development has been stunted.
The atmosphere throughout is bleak and it is difficult to explain how the book engages the reader as much as it does. The murders and the aftermath are quite shocking when they occur but this book does not pretend to rely on high drama, fast action, or changes of pace. It will appeal most to readers who enjoy exploring the psychology of the characters.
The novel is written in a very ‘American’ style and also there are references that I found irritating as they were not familiar to me, although I am sure they would be to an American reader. Otherwise it is well written and well constructed so that the story unfolds clearly and unambiguously, if at times it seems a bit slow.
Category:Review. Tags: Description,Story telling,Creative Writing