I don’t know about you, but with an opening paragraph like that, I was drawn in and could not put Canada by Richard Ford down.
Dell Parsons, a 60+ year old about-to-be-retired school teacher in Ontario, reflects on the traumatic circumstances that altered the course of his life at the age of 15. Canada is his way of taking account of his life. He tries to teach his students that life is not a series of random events, that you must reflect and put them into perspective.
First there was a robbery. A poorly planned and seemingly senseless bank robbery. Dell and his twin sister Berner lived a disjointed and unsettled life with their parents. Bev and Neeva Parson were not a match, not physically, intellectually nor socially. Dell considered throughout the course of the novel that his father was deeply affected by his experiences in WWII and was never able to find a comfortable place in society. Having failed at jobs, then drawn into some petty crime, he somehow came to the conclusion that robbing a bank would be the solution and somehow a victimless crime. Dell was having a harder time coming to terms with the self-destructive streak that drew his mother into the crime and prevented her from taking her children to a safe place. Their arrest left Dell and Berner abandoned and alone, each to find their own path.
Dell and Berner, although twins, were contrasting personalities as well. Berner was sullen and engaged in risky behaviours. Dell was physically smaller, very concerned about school and his future, and craved a life with order and security. Berner suffered greatly, although we only ever see an outline of her story. Dell was thoughtful and detached. He did not assign blame, though he considered deeply why people did what they did and attempted to make sense of chaos.
As the story unfolded, the robbery was merely the catalyst for all which was to follow. Dell was spirited away to Saskatchewan in order to avoid an orphanage – an institution he imagined with barred windows, punishment for the sins of the father. He was left in the dubious care of two men whose actions both threatened his safety and shored up his resilience.
Ford won the Pulitzer Prize for Independence Day in 1995, and Canada won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction in 2013. There are so many gems of wisdom wrapped up in beautiful language, that this novel deserves a second read. For other coming of age novels with memorable characters and lyrical writing you might like to try The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Sea of Hooks by Lindsay Hill and The Round House by Louise Erdrich