First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders, which happened later. In 1956, Dell Parsons' family came to a stop in Great Falls, Montana, the way many military families did following the war. His father, Bev, was a talkative, plank-shouldered man, an airman from Alabama with an optimistic and easy-scheming nature. Dell and his twin sister, Berner, could easily see why their mother might have been attracted to him. But their mother Neeva - from an educated, immigrant, Jewish family - was shy, artistic and alienated from their father’s small-town world of money scrapes and living on-the-fly. It was more bad instincts and bad luck that Dell’s parents decided to rob the bank. They weren’t reckless people. In the days following the arrest, Dell is saved by a family friend before the authorities think to arrive. Driving across the Montana border into Saskatchewan his life hurtles towards the unknown, towards a hotel in a deserted town, towards the violent and enigmatic American Arthur Remlinger, and towards Canada itself - a landscape of rescue and abandonment. But as Dell discovers, in this new world of secrets and upheaval, he is not the only one whose own past lies on the other side of a border. In Canada, Richard Ford has created a masterpiece. A visionary novel of vast landscapes, complex identities and fragile humanity. It questions the fine line between the normal and the extraordinary, and the moments that haunt our settled view of the world.
by Michael Awosoga-Samuel, Readings Carlton
Canada tells the story of Dell Parson, a 15-year-old boy living in Great Falls Montana in 1960 with his parents. Father Bev was a bomber pilot in the war, and still works for the Air Force, which means the family has moved around America, never settling too long in one place. This causes resentment from Dell’s twin sister Berner, who Dell looks up to. She is smart and sassy and has a boyfriend, while Dell is more introverted, likes chess and collecting bees.
The twins’ mother Neeva comes from a Jewish family who don’t take kindly to their daughter marrying a Southern Air Force pilot and so the the twins do not see their grandparents. Dell, who narrates this story, wonders how a studious and intelligent woman wound up married to a man like his father who is light-hearted and easy-going.
Central to this family’s story are the events that lead to Dell’s father committing a bank robbery and his wife’s willingness to be his accomplice. Ford takes us deep into the mindset of Dell’s reaction to his parents’ big secret which raises questions about how we perceive our parents.
Ford has written a novel about what happens when we deal with our parents’ faults and the immediate impact of that upon our lives. He portrays his characters in their rawest and most emotional state and raises questions of responsibility for the choices we make and how we accept the consequences for them. A most exceptional novel.
Michael Awosoga-Samuel is from Readings Carlton
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