Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reading Rainbow: Canada by Richard Ford

In an effort to catch up on things around here, I'm going to throw this quick entry up.

The first time I read Richard Ford, I was smitten. His prose was revelatory. The Sportswriter and Independence Day were breathtaking. Sure, one could fault Ford for being self-indulgent in his wallowing in the late-20th Century mid-life malaise that Frank Bascombe wades through in the Bascombe Trilogy, but the journey is completely arresting.

Ford's newest novel, Canada, is a fairly significant departure from his best-known series which contained a Pulitzer Prize Award winner and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. This time we follow Dell Parsons, a 15-year-old whose parents in a moment of desperation go across the Montana/North Dakota border to rob a bank to get out from under the debt from a black market meat deal gone bad. Split into halves, the first section of Canada centers on the home as the Parsons clan is torn apart by the robbery. The second takes the reader along as Dell is absconded away to stay with the mysterious brother of a family friend across the border in the Saskatchewan.

Taking place in the late summer and fall of 1960, the tale of Dell Parsons is set just as America is seeming to lose its innocence. As his mismatched parents make their erred final stab at keeping their nuclear family together, Dell is finding nearly everyone around him to be of dubious judgment and make-up. Dell, allegorically, is America.

While it might be lacking in the depth of color and flourish by way of Ford's feel for the English language that imbues particularly the Bascombe Trilogy, the less evolved prose makes sense from a stylistic and thematic standpoint. Even though the novel is written from a point much later in Dell's life, the powers of observation and insight that a 15-year-old can be capable of, even in retrospect, has to be a bit limited. It only makes sense that the voice of the narrator would be slightly less evolved than that of Frank Bascombe, modern man adrift.

Though this authorial choice makes sense, it is a shame that the force of Ford's prose is sacrificed, even if just a bit. The reader gets a fair trade-off in the form of a more action-driven plot, but the difference in prose is noticeable. In Canada, one is not swept awayawash in awe at the way Ford pieces words together in sequencing that fill me with equal parts envy and joy. It is still a fine novel, but one cannot help but wonder what could have been.

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