Canada (Ford)

Richard Ford, 2012
420 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061692031

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

Then fifteen-year-old Dell Parsons' parents rob a bank, his sense of normal life is forever altered. In an instant, this private cataclysm drives his life into before and after, a threshold that can never be uncrossed.

His parents' arrest and imprisonment mean a threatening and uncertain future for Dell and his twin sister, Berner. Willful and burning with resentment, Berner flees their home in Montana, abandoning her brother and her life. But Dell is not completely alone.

A family friend intervenes, spiriting him across the Canadian border, in hopes of delivering him to a better life. There, afloat on the prairie of Saskatchewan, Dell is taken in by Arthur Remlinger, an enigmatic and charismatic American whose cool reserve masks a dark and violent nature.

Undone by the calamity of his parents' robbery and arrest, Dell struggles under the vast prairie sky to remake himself and define the adults he thought he knew. But his search for grace and peace only moves him nearer to a harrowing and murderous collision with Remlinger, an elemental force of darkness.

A true masterwork of haunting and spectacular vision from one of our greatest writers, Canada is a profound novel of boundaries traversed, innocence lost and reconciled, and the mysterious and consoling bonds of family. Told in spare, elegant prose, both resonant and luminous, it is destined to become a classic. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—February 16, 1944
Where—Jackson, Mississippi, USA
Education— B.A., Michigan State University; M.F.A.,
   University of California, Irvine
Awards—Pulitzer Prize; PEN/Faulkner Award (more below)
Currently—llives in Boothbay, Maine

Richard Ford is an American novelist and short story writer. His best-known works are the novel The Sportswriter and its sequels, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land, and the short story collection Rock Springs, which contains several widely anthologized stories.

Early years
Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi, the only son of Parker Carrol Ford, a traveling salesman for Faultless Starch, a Kansas City company. When Ford was eight years old, his father had a major heart attack, and thereafter Ford spent as much time with his grandfather, a former prizefighter and hotel owner in Little Rock, Arkansas, as he did with his parents. Ford's father died of a second heart attack in 1960.

Ford received a B.A. from Michigan State University. Having enrolled to study hotel management, he switched to English. After graduating he taught junior high school in Flint, Michigan, and enlisted in the US Marines but was discharged after contracting hepatitis. At the university he met Kristina Hensley, his future wife; the two married in 1968.

Despite mild dyslexia, Ford developed a serious interest in literature. He has said in interviews that his dyslexia may, in fact, have helped him as a reader, as it forced him to approach books at a slow and thoughtful pace.

Ford briefly attended law school but dropped out and entered the creative writing program at the University of California, Irvine, to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree, which he received in 1970. Ford chose this course simply because, he confesses...

they admitted me. I remember getting the application for Iowa, and thinking they'd never have let me in. I'm sure I was right about that, too. But, typical of me, I didn't know who was teaching at Irvine. I didn't know it was important to know such things. I wasn't the most curious of young men, even though I give myself credit for not letting that deter me.

As it turned out, Oakley Hall and E. L. Doctorow were teaching there, and Ford has been explicit about his debt to them. In 1971, he was selected for a three-year appointment in the University of Michigan Society of Fellows.

Later life and works
Ford published his first novel, A Piece of My Heart, the story of two unlikely drifters whose paths cross on an island in the Mississippi River, in 1976, and followed it with The Ultimate Good Luck in 1981. In the interim he briefly taught at Williams College and Princeton.

Despite good notices the books sold little, and Ford retired from fiction writing to become a writer for the magazine Inside Sports. Ford has said...

I realized there was probably a wide gulf between what I could do and what would succeed with readers. I felt that I'd had a chance to write two novels, and neither of them had really created much stir, so maybe I should find real employment, and earn my keep.

In 1982, the magazine folded, and when Sports Illustrated did not hire Ford, he returned to fiction writing with The Sportswriter, a novel about a failed novelist turned sportswriter who undergoes an emotional crisis following the death of his son. The novel became Ford's "breakout book", named one of Time magazine's five best books of 1986 and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Ford followed the success immediately with Rock Springs (1987), a story collection mostly set in Montana that includes some of his most popular stories, adding to his reputation as one of the finest writers of his generation.

Although his 1990 novel Wildlife, a story of a Montana golf pro turned firefighter, met with mixed reviews and middling sales, by the end of the 1980s Ford's reputation was solid. He was increasingly sought after as an editor and contributor to various projects. Ford edited the 1990 Best American Short Stories, the 1992 Granta Book of the American Short Story, and the 1998 Granta Book of the American Long Story, a designation he claimed in the introduction to prefer to the novella. More recently he has edited the 2007 New Granta Book of the American Short Story, and the Library of America's two-volume edition of the selected works of fellow Mississippi writer Eudora Welty.

In 1995, Ford's career reached a high point with the release of Independence Day, a sequel to The Sportswriter, featuring the continued story of its protagonist, Frank Bascombe. Reviews were positive, and the novel became the first to win both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In the same year, Ford was chosen as winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story, for outstanding achievement in that genre. Ford's recent works include the story collections Women with Men (1997) and A Multitude of Sins (2002). The Lay of the Land (2006) ends the Frank Bascombe series. Ford's latest novel, Canada, was published in 2012.

Ford lived for many years in New Orleans, Louisiana, where his wife Kristina was the executive director of the city planning commission. He now lives in East Boothbay, Maine. He took up a teaching appointment at Bowdoin College in 2005, but remained in the post for only one semester. Since 2008 Ford has been Adjunct Professor at the Oscar Wilde Centre with the School of English at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, and teaches on the Masters programme in creative writing.

As of December 29, 2010, Ford will be assuming the post of senior fiction professor at the University of Mississippi in the Fall of 2011, replacing Barry Hannah, who died in March 2010.

 In the fall of 2012, he will become the Emmanuel Roman and Barrie Sardoff Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Writing at the Columbia University School of the Arts.

Critical opinion
Richard Ford's writings demonstrate "a meticulous concern for the nuances of language ... [and] the rhythms of phrases and sentences." Ford has described his sense of language as "a source of pleasure in itself—all of its corporeal qualities, its syncopations, moods, sounds, the way things look on the page." This "devotion to language" is closely linked to what he calls "the fabric of affection that holds people close enough together to survive."

Comparisons have been drawn between Ford's work and the writings of John Updike, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Walker Percy. Ford himself resists such comparisons, commenting, "You can't write ... on the strength of influence. You can only write a good story or a good novel by yourself."

Ford's works of fiction "dramatize the breakdown of such cultural institutions as marriage, family, and community," and his...

marginalized protagonists often typify the rootlessness and nameless longing ... pervasive in a highly mobile, present-oriented society in which individuals, having lost a sense of the past, relentlessly pursue their own elusive identities in the here and now.

Ford "looks to art, rather than religion, to provide consolation and redemption in a chaotic time."

Awards and honors
    2013 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in fiction for Canada
    2001 PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in short fiction
    1995 PEN/Faulkner Award[8] for Independence Day
    1995 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[9] for Independence Day
    1995 Rea Award for the Short Story for outstanding achievement in that genre. (Author bio from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/07/2013.)

Book Reviews
Canada is blessed with two essential strengths in equal measure—a mesmerizing story driven by authentic and fully realized characters, and a prose style so accomplished it is tempting to read each sentence two or three times before being pulled to the next…Dell's voice here—nonjudgmental, insightful, laconic and slightly melancholy but at ease with the language he's using to plumb his memory—is the central strength of this remarkable novel. Its finely wrought sentences alone are worth the price of admission, but they are also in constant service to the story of the Parsons family…Canada is a tale of what happens when we cross certain lines and can never go back. It is an examination of the redemptive power of articulated memory, and it is a masterwork by one of our finest writers working at the top of his form.
New York Times Book Review—Andre Dubus III

Mr. Ford has fashioned an engaging, ruminative voice for Dell. It's less self-conscious than that of the author's best-known hero, Frank Bascombe…but almost as elastic, capable of capturing the vernacular of the everyday, while addressing the big philosophical questions of choice and fate. It's a voice capable of conjuring both the soporific routines of daily life in 1960 in Great Falls, before Dell's parents turn to crime, and the harrowing, Dickensian experiences he is subjected to after their arrest.
New York Times—Michiko Kakutani

Robust and powerful… Ford is able to tap into something momentous and elemental about the profound moral chaos behind the actions of seemingly responsible people… Ford has dramatized the frightening discovery of the world’s anarchic heart.
Wall Sreet Journal

[A] magnificent work of Montana gothic that confirms [Ford's] position as one of the finest stylists and most humane storytellers in America…his most elegiac and profound book…Always a careful craftsman, Ford has polished the plainspoken lines of Canada to an arresting sheen. He's working somewhere between Marilynne Robinson (without the theology) and Cormac McCarthy (without the gore). The wisdom he offers throughout these pages can be heard in the hushed silence that follows this harrowing tale.
Washington Post—Ron Charles

Richard Ford returns with one of his most powerful novels yet…Ford has never written better…Canada is Richard Ford’s best book since Independence Day, and despite its robbery and killings it too depends on its voice, a voice oddly calm and marked by the spare grandeur of its landscape.
Daily Beast

Told in Ford’s exquisitely detailed, unhurried prose…Ford is interested here in the ways snap decisions can bend life in unexpected directions... Canada’s characters grapple with this... and the answers they come up with define the rest of their lives, along with this quietly thoughtful book.
Entertainment Weekly

Masterly… in Ford’s American tragedy, filled with lost innocence and inevitable violence—a rusting carnival, a rabbit caught in a coyote’s jaws—geography feels a lot like fate.

Tragic rural farrago composed of two awkwardly joined halves. In the late 1950s, in Great Falls, Mont., teenage twins Dell and Berner Parson have different concerns: Berner’s is whether to run away with her boyfriend; Dell’s is chess and beekeeping. Their comically mismatched desperation...[rob] a bank... A book from Ford is always an event and his prose is assured and textured, but the whole is not heavily significant.
Publishers Weekly

Since winning the Pulitzer Prize for his 1995 novel, Independence Day, Ford has cultivated a reputation for writing lucid and compelling prose. Here, he lives up to that reputation....[with] 15-year-old Dell Parsons, whose world collapses when his parents are jailed for a bank robbery.... Segmented into three parts, the narrative slowly builds into a gripping commentary on life's biggest question: Why are we here? Ford's latest work successfully expands our understanding of and sympathy for humankind. —Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH
Library Journal

Typically for Ford, the focus is as much on the perspective (and limitations) of its protagonist as it is on the issues that the narrative addresses. The first-person narrator is Dell Parsons, a 15-year-old living in Montana with his twin sister when their robbery.... Dell is taken across the border to Canada, where he will establish a new life for himself after crossing another border, from innocent bystander to reluctant complicity.... Dell's perspective may well be singular and skewed, but it's articulate without being particularly perceptive or reflective.
Kirkus Reviews

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