Canada by Richard Ford
hardback 418 pages
5 stars and a favorite
Great opening lines of the novel:
"First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later."
The story is told by Dell Parsons many years later as he recounts the radical change in his and his twin sister's lives after their parents rob a bank when the twins are 15 years old. The normal life in Montana Dell thought he had was abruptly over and he finds himself alone (Berner, his twin sister, flees Montana on her own). A friend of Dell's mother arranges for a friend to take Dell away before authorities can take charge of him and he is taken to the prairie of Saskatchewan. He is left in the care of total strangers in Canada. He is "taken up" by Arthur Remlinger, an American living in exile in Canada as a result of his mysterious past. Dell is forced to rethink what he thought he knew about his life before and make his way and his new future for himself.
Ford's writing is spare and beautiful. In his acknowledgements he states that he was influenced by writers Wallace Stegner and William Maxwell. I am a fan of Stegner's myself. This was such a good read. I was swept up in the story and Ford's descriptions of the landscape, etc. just put you right there.
One thing that was most interesting to me while reading this was to see how very differently people respond to calamity and abrupt change or loss or hardship in life. By having the main character and narrator a twin, Ford introduces two different ways of response and ultimately two totally different outcomes. We all can think of a major event/decision in life that we reflect and question how the outcome would have been had we responded differently to the situation. Berner chooses to flee her life and go in one direction and Dell almost lets something HAPPEN to him and just reacts but his way of reacting makes all the difference for his future.
The characters are fascinating and curiously drawn and detailed by Ford. Such complex and intriguing people fill the pages of this story! I think Dell is such a resilient and optimistic character. He doesn't play the victim. Despite his naivete (as opposed to Berner's "worldliness") and youth, he shows an ability to observe carefully and take advice wherever it is given (and from whomever) and apply it in a practical way so he can move forward and not despair. He CHOOSES to accept where he is at any given time and learn what he can and use the experience to make his situation always better going forward. There is a great lesson about life to be learned from Dell Parsons.
(About Dell and Berner's parents) "The odd union of their mismatched physical attributes always plays in my mind as part of the reason they ended up badly: they were no doubt simply wrong for each other and should never have married or done any of it...The longer they stayed on, and the better they knew each other, the better she at least could see their mistake...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."
"...would you have thought that there was a man getting ready to commit an armed robbery? No, you wouldn't. Though admittedly I'm intrigued by how ordinary behavior exists so close beside its opposite."
"How amazingly far normalcy extends; how you can keep it in sight as if you were on a raft sliding out to sea, the stitch of land growing smaller and smaller...You notice it or you don't notice it. But you're already too far away and all is lost."
(Dell) "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...Knowing this, however, has not made me cynical. Cynical means 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."
"...try to include in my thinking as much as I possibly could, and not let my mind focus in an unhealthy way on only one thing, and to always know something I could relinquish. My parents for their part had by turns counseled me in favor of acceptance...I would try to mediate among the good counsels I'd been given: generosity, longevity, acceptance, relinquishment, letting the world come to me - and, with these things, to make a life."