Richard Ford is a writer of some of the finest fiction in American history, the first to win a Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award in 1995 for a singe book, Independence Day. Canada, in my opinion, is the finest book Ford has written in his long and illustrious career, and may even be the most artful long fiction in the history of American letters.
I’ve always harbored a skeptical acceptance of writers claiming the mantle of artist. Writers, including really good writers, first and foremost practice a trade craft.
Exceptional wordsmiths, the ones we readily think of as artists, are doubtlessly artistic by nature, have an artistic bent or gene or instinct that permeates the mechanics of language, but they also have a faculty for using words. Without the concomitant trade craft, many predisposed artists are driving trucks.
The use of language and the skill of word craft make Canada worth your time and money. Matched with a haunting story of which only Ford is capable, Canada is a candidate for every literary award America bestows. Your library, no matter how carefully selected and good it is, will be incomplete without this book.
Ford is one of the few fine literary technicians who is without question a virtuosic artist. Six years in the making, Canada is a profound work of literature. It is a book with a story of inspiring, everyday bravery imbued within the character of a 15-year-old boy as narrated by the mature, gentle man the boy becomes.
Canada opens on Page 1 with “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first.”
Now in his 60s, Dell Parsons reflects on the course of his life beginning in 1960 when his father, Bev, recently mustered out of the Air Force at 37 after 20 years and under irregular circumstances, decides to rob a bank a day’s drive from their home in Great Falls, Mont.
Bev Parsons is a good man, and a good husband and a good father to Dell and his twin sister, Berner. He moved his family to Great Falls because he thought he could make his way there and provide a good living for his family.
He works as a new-car salesman, then as a used-car salesman and a real estate agent hawking farmland, something he admits he knows nothing about even after taking a course in the basement of the Y.M.C.A. Dell is looking forward to the school year and wants to keep bees; Berner is grooming to be the cat’s meow in her first year of high school. They’re a normal family with normal aspirations in a normal town in the center of a hardscrabble state.
Bev is a dreamer, a big handsome man who loves his kids and is dedicated to a mousy, worrying wife who unfailingly keeps a journal that informs our narrator of what came before the bank heist.
Bev runs a stolen beef scam on the Great Northern Railway with a couple of lowlife Cree Indians for a while until it goes upside down and Bev is left owing a big sum of money to his partners who are inclined to burn his house down.
Bev’s next bright idea is to rob a bank in neighboring North Dakota. He recruits his wife into the poorly made plan, and, of course, they get caught and sent to prison.
Dell and Berner are to be secreted into Canada by their mother’s friend to a distant relative in Saskatchewan, a man of questionable character and business, but a hideaway nonetheless from inevitable foster care.
Berner runs away to California; Dell complies and winds up in chaotic surroundings and murderous goings-on in which he finds a courage reserved only for those who have no way back.
Canada is a masterwork of art, and Ford is my pick to achieve the highest of recognition with a Nobel Prize in literature.
JeffMannix.com. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.