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Monday, September 26, 2016

Review of CANADA by Richard Ford

Yesterday, I posted the longlist of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.  In researching this relatively new literary award which was established in 2012, I realized I have read four of the previous winners.

Here are the previous winners of this award:

2015:  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (

2013:  Canada by Richard Ford

2014:  The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

The one book I have read from the above list but for which I did not post my review because I read it back in June 2012 (before I began my blog) is the one for Canada by Richard Ford, so I thought I’d post my review today.

Review of Canada by Richard Ford
3 Stars
Canada by [Ford, Richard]The novel opens in Montana in 1960. The narrator, Dell Parsons, is fifteen years old and lives a normal life with his parents and twin sister Berner. The parents are “regular people tricked by circumstance and bad instincts, along with bad luck, to venture outside of boundaries they knew to be right, and then found themselves unable to go back” (7). They ineptly execute a sketchily planned bank robbery and are quickly apprehended. The focus of the book is on the consequences this one event has on the family, particularly Dell who ends up crossing a boundary as well, the border into Canada, and living with a mysterious American, Arthur Remlinger, in Saskatchewan.

The book explores how one event can have dramatic consequences for others and how people react to personal catastrophes. Separated from his foolhardy parents and his sister, Dell faces an uncertain future with few role models. He has to figure out for himself how to live his life; he has to find his way “from a way of living that doesn’t work toward one that does” (395). More than anything, Dell wants to be normal and to lead a normal life: “things were happening around me. My part was to find a way to be normal” (142) although he admits “It’s hard to hold the idea of a normal life” (93). Of course he is reassured when he is told, “You could be normal in Canada” (325). In the end he adopts an attitude of detachment, deciding that perhaps it’s best “not to hunt too hard for hidden . . . meanings . . . and learn to accept the world” (395 – 396).

The novel moves at a very slow pace, as Dell meticulously reflects on his parents’ characters and actions and tries to understand their motives and reasoning. In the process it is Dell’s character which is also revealed. By the time readers have finished the book, they will feel they know the narrator intimately.

The style is clear and crisp. I love some of Ford’s comparisons: Bev and Neeva Parsons were obviously wrong for each other and “The longer they stayed on . . . the more misguided their lives became – like a long proof in mathematics in which the first calculation is wrong, following which all other calculations move you further away from how things were when they made sense” (6 – 7).

The title of the novel has me puzzled, especially since half the book is set in the United States. I guess I’ll just have to accept Ford’s explanation that he felt a “visceral-instinctual rightness” to the title: “The title seemed inevitable.” In return for appropriating Canada’s “sacred name,” he has tried to give back “as good a book as [he] can write” ( In my opinion, that’s quite a good book.