Having heard Richard Ford talk about how he came to write Canada I had to read it. Without doubt, Canada is the stand-out book for me this month. It opens with now often quoted lines, “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.”
The narrator is Dell Parsons, sixtyish, looking back at his fifteen-year-old self, to that time in 1960 when his parents made a disastrous wrong turn.
It takes a while to get to the bank robbery, and even longer to get to the murders. The crimes aren’t the point, so much as the consequences and the effect on the rest of Dell’s life.
This is a ‘voice’ book. I was soon lulled into Dell’s deliberate, evenly-paced recalling of events of fifty years ago. He often circles back on himself. Dell is going to take his time, do it his way, but his voice has a rhythm and a purpose: “Normal life was what I was seeking to preserve for myself."
At the heart of the book is Dell’s determination not to be defeated by these terrible events. Following the bank robbery Dell ends up in Canada, where he is witness to further crimes. I’ll say no more.
Ford’s great achievement is to have written a book that manages to be both meditative and a page-turner. I found myself happy to savour each sentence of Dell's ruminations and the wonderful descriptions of great sweeps of the north American landscape. But there is such a sense of menace to come.
What is it about these sixtysomething American witers?
If October turned out to be Paul Auster month for me, then November became a month of Richard Ford. Having finished Canada I went back to The Sportswriter and some of Ford’s short stories. I enjoyed hearing him speak again at The Guardian book club, but more about that in a future post.