By Richard Ford
ecco, $27.99, 420 pages

Richard Ford’s Canada is the story of Dell Parsons, a 15-year-old boy who finds his life uprooted, not once but twice, through the actions of the adults around him. After his parents are arrested for a bank robbery attempt, he is taken from his home in Montana to stay with a mysterious American who now runs a hotel in Saskatchewan, Canada. Once there, events unfold to reveal that, even in another country, he is not safe.

Ford’s lean prose beautifully describes a landscape desolate and dreary, populated sparsely by characters of varying degrees of foolishness, menace and disinterest that sweep the young Dell along to a life of grinding isolation. In Ford’s other works, the internal journey is as important as the plot, but in Canada this is not as clearly felt. The adults who take action do so with little or no thought, and most of Dell’s inner workings are limited to the practical. This may be the natural result of his being a minor with no say in his own life, but the reader is left wondering if he has feelings at all, or if events have caused him to permanently shut down.

Apparently, this is not the case, for in Part Three, a mature Dell, now a school teacher, tells his students “not to hunt too hard for hidden or opposite meanings – even in the books they read – but to look as much as possible straight at the things they can see in broad daylight.” This then is Ford’s message as much as it is Dell’s. Canada is exactly as you see it and you take away what you will.

Reviewed by Catherine Gilmore

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