Richard Ford’s novel hooks readers from the beginning, “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.” Dell and his twin sister are 15 when their parents’ actions doom them to being orphans, though the novel is less about these events than about their effect.
In a Daily Beast interview, Ford says, “From the start, I wanted to write a novel about a teenager who’s abandoned and sent away to Canada. Something about crossing borders—of various kinds—seemed dramatic; how close one state of being is to a very different state of being.” In this case, the state of being part of a family, however misguided the parents might be, versus being alone among strangers.
A short excerpt is available on Maclean’s website.
Adult/High School–Ford’s quietly beautiful novel is structured around two life-changing events for Dell Parsons, the narrator. Although he mentions both in the first sentence, it takes him almost half of the novel to get around to recounting his parents’ robbery of a bank in small-town North Dakota, and most of the rest to describe the double murder he witnessed mere weeks later. Indeed, writing from the perspective of 50 years later, Dell approaches these events not with the drama and shock they seem to deserve but with contemplative dispassion as he attempts to understand how they affected the rest of his life. The question he struggles with most is whether or not criminals like his parents inevitably commit their crimes and can somehow be identified as criminals even before acting. And while Ford is fascinated by this question as well, he simultaneously asks the much deeper question of how a person is affected by obsessing over such a question for 50 years. With its narrator’s dual perspective as teen and old man and its focus on a single dramatic summer, Canada has much in common with Mal Peet’s Life: An Exploded Diagram (Candlewick, 2011) and David E. Hilton’s Kings of Colorado (S & S, 2011). And though Ford’s novel is more contemplative and less immediate than either, teens who enjoyed those novels should find much to love here, especially since it compensates by being by far the most beautifully written of the three, particularly in Ford’s gorgeous descriptions of the barren landscape of the Northern U.S. and Saskatchewan.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA