Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Canada by Richard Ford

First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders, which happened later.”

So begins Canada, the unforgettable story of Dell Parsons, a young man forced by catastrophic circumstances to reconcile himself to a world rendered unrecognizable. Spirited across the Montana border into Saskatchewan and taken in by Arthur Remlinger, an enigmatic man whose own past exists on the other side of the border, Dell struggles to understand what his future can be even as he comes to understand the violence simmering below the surface in his new life.

In this brilliant novel, set largely in Saskatchewan, Richard Ford has created a masterwork. Haunting and spectacular in vision, Canada is a novel rich with emotional clarity and lyrical precision, and an acute sense of the grandeur of living. It is a classic-in-the-making from one of our time’s greatest writers.

About the Author

Richard Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1944, the only child of a traveling salesman for a starch company, and was raised in Mississippi and in Arkansas. He went to college at Michigan State University, where he met Kristina Hensley, to whom he has been married since 1968. Ford attended law school very briefly before entering the University of California at Irvine, where he received his M.F.A. in writing in 1970.

After publishing two novels, A Piece of My Heart (1976) and The Ultimate Good Luck (1981), Ford took a job writing for Inside Sports Magazine. When the magazine was sold, he decided to write a book about a sportswriter; the resulting novel, published in 1986, received widespread acclaim: it was named one of five best books of 1986 by Time magazine. The Sportswriter was followed by Rock Springs (1987), a highly praised book of short stories, and in 1990 by a novel set in Great Falls, Montana, called Wildlife. His previous novel, Independence Day, won the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction, the first novel ever to win both awards. In 2012 he published Canada, his first stand-alone novel since Wildlife.

In addition to his steady production of fiction, Ford has also taught writing and literature at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, at Princeton University, and at Williams College.


  1. Once again Fireside Readers struck book club gold with Canada by Richard Ford. Among us we loved or hated the book, loved the writing or found it tedious, were fascinated or bored, forged ahead or abandoned it; all agreed on one thing – it made us think!
    There is no doubt Canada is a bleak book, set on cold, windblown landscapes and peopled with depressed and depressing characters who live tragic lives. Dell tells this story of the dissolution of his family – the aftermath of his parents’ terrible mistake. How we longed for a hero! How we longed for Dell to succeed! In some ways he did, but looking back at his peaceful, uneventful adult life, somehow the reader was disappointed.
    Dell was raised in a family of misfits; his mother a solemn, intellectual Jewish girl married a handsome, charming, extroverted southerner and neither was suited to life in Great Falls, Montana or to each other. Neeva raised her twins, Dell and Berner, to stand apart from society; she wanted them to be better. While Dell’s father was in the air force their otherness wasn’t as noticeable, however, once he was out and the family settled, it became much more apparent.
    In some ways, the book is about disjointedness – people everywhere were out of place. Bev belonged in the south where he might well have prospered. Neeva dreamed of being a poet and teaching at a small university. Berner wanted to escape to a big city – in the end that brought her no joy. Dell wanted simple, but unachievable things - to go to high school and to be accepted as a member of the chess club. The Parsons family crossed borders and boundaries – physical, social and moral – and found no place to fit.

  2. The family simply disintegrated after Bev and Neeva robbed the bank in North Dakota. Using his usual reverse thinking, Bev has persuaded himself that no one would notice or know him, when in fact, the opposite was true. Neeva went along in order to save Dell from being recruited. Why didn’t she take the twins and leave? Once the parents were arrested each of the family members were set on very different paths: Neeva and Bev went to two separate prisons, Berner ran away to San Francisco and Dell, ever passive, was rescued by his mother’s friend and taken to Saskatchewan. Aside from one visit to the Great Falls prison where they were held, Berner and Dell never saw their parents again and spent very little time with each other.
    Why is the book called Canada? Ford does draw some comparisons between lives lived above and below the 49th parallel. Was that the last border for Dell? Had he come to a place where he could live a normal life?

    The world of Arthur Remlinger in Fort Royal was not normal. Arthur was out of place because he had killed a man in a protest bombing. He had not meant to kill anyone, so he ran for the border, eventually coming to own the broken down Leonard hotel, a Cadillac and a few trappings of the gentleman he pretended to be. Dell was fascinated by Arthur and wanted his attention. Shortly after he got it, Dell knew that Arthur’s attention was a very dangerous thing indeed. Remlinger’s character and purpose were difficult to understand. Was he a father figure to Dell? Charlie said that Dell was a point of reference for Remlinger – what did he mean? Charlie was tied to Remlinger by something he’d done in the past. What was the significance of this broken down, dangerous and most certainly crazy transvestite to the novel?
    Dell escaped to safety. Many years after, he met his sister who was dying of cancer. She now called herself Bev, (after their father?). She and Dell seemed to have come to some place of peace but not happiness
    The conclusion: Life is what it is. “We try, as my sister said. We try. All of us. We try.”