Canada is a coming-of-age novel about a young man living in Montana whose family falls apart when his parents rob a bank and he is sent to Canada to live. Richard Ford does not keep readers in suspense: He summarizes the plot of Canada in the first two sentences of the 418-page novel:
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"First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders, which happened later."
Although these events will be revisited later, it is not the events themselves that are the focus of the novel but their influence on the coming of age of an adolescent boy.
The novel is narrated by a skillful blend of two voices: that of 15-year-old Dell Parsons, a lonely, sensitive boy who loves chess, bees, and school, and 65-year-old Parsons, a retired English teacher who is trying to make sense of the events in his life through reflection and introspection.
The first part of the novel, set in Montana in 1960, introduces Dell's dysfunctional family—his unhappy, mismatched parents and his equally lonely twin sister and best friend, Berner. The family is torn apart and Del's innocence is forever lost when his financially strapped parents are arrested in a pathetic attempt to rob a bank (he only sees them once after that). Abandoned and in danger of being caught by juvenile authorities, Berner runs away from home while Dell is shepherded north to Canada by a family friend whose brother owns a hotel in Saskatchewan, beginning part two of the novel and hence, its title. The hotelier, Dell learns, is an enigmatic American fugitive on the run from a political crime he committed in Detroit years ago. Dell lives in an abandoned shack in exchange for doing odd jobs around the hotel, coping with loss of family and loneliness and trying to redefine his life in this desolate prairie landscape, until the hotelier's past catches up with him and the murders forecast in the novel's second sentence change the course of Dell's life once more. In part three, Dell has a brief reunion with his terminally ill sister in Minneapolis.
What these events teach Dell is that adults sometimes make wrong choices which often lead to more unfortunate choices, “like a long proof in mathematics in which the first calculation is wrong.” If his writing is slightly melancholy, it is never cynical, judgmental, or self-pitying. Dell simply tries to reflect upon and make sense of what has happened in his life and his perceptions of them. He writes:
"It's been my habit of mind, over these years, to understand that every situation in which human beings are involved can be turned on its head. Everything someone assures me to be true might not be. Every pillar of belief the world rests on may or may not be about to explode. Most things don't stay the way they are very long. Knowing this, however, has not made me cynical. Cynical means believing that good isn't possible; and I know for a fact that good is. I simply take nothing for granted and try to be ready for the change that's soon to come."
Richard Ford once wrote, “Bad things come to everybody. We don't get out of it. But the real important, the real interesting, optimistic side of all bad things, is what we do in consequence of them.” (http://fictionwritersreview.com/review/canada-by-richard-ford/) This, then, is the focus of Canada—not the events that shape Dell's life but what he does “in consequence of them.”
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked best that the ingenious way that Richard Ford tells readers up front what the plot is, so we're turning page after page wondering what will happen. From the beginning readers know the emphasis will not be on plot but on Dell's reflections of what happened in his life and how those events shaped his outlook on life
Best scene in story:
The botched bank robbery scene is extremely well written, comic and tragic at the same time. Readers know from the inept way in which Dell's parents plan the holdup, with virtually no experience, that the robbery attempt will fail. It's almost absurd to read how they convince themselves that the elaborate scheme will work. It's also tragic in that they are so assured the robbery will work that they fail to plan for the care of their children, should it fail.
Opinion about the main character:
love how Richard Ford skillfully weaves the perceptions of a naïve adolescent (15-year-old Dell) with those of a reflective man 50 years older and more experienced (65-year-old Dell) together as the story unfolds. I liked that while Dell may be a bit melancholy (who wouldn't be, given his circumstances), he is never cynical about life.