Canada Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

CanadaCanada by Richard Ford. Ecco/HarperCollins, 2012. 420 pages; $15.99 (paperback). Reading level: adult.

When sixty-six-year-old Dell Parsons looks back on the six weeks that changed his life back when he was fifteen, he begins his story this way: “First I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.” It takes half the book to fill in the details of the first of those two events and the journey is never slow. We meet Dell, his parents, and his twin sister Berner and follow along, waiting, knowing the ax will fall, as Dell takes us through the chain of events that spurs his “ordinary” parents to do the unthinkable. As the second half of the book opens, we know “the murders” are coming, but have no clue as to who the victims or the murderer might be. When the parents are taken off to jail and no one comes to collect the two children, Berner flees with her boyfriend and Dell allows himself to be spirited to Saskatchewan, Canada to live with the brother of a friend of his mother’s. The sense of foreboding builds inexorably behind Dell’s naive observations about the suspicious, unmoored characters he’s landed in the midst of. How can a fifteen-year-old who believes adults to be mysterious but always, in the end, right make sense of which adults might, at any moment, turn out to be the opposite of what they appear to be? Is there a way back across the border to normal? In this novel, Ford explores a family fractured into four pieces, bores down through the layers of each of its members, and leaves us emotionally exhausted but somehow – through Dell’s spare, strong, heartbreakingly innocent narration – aware of things worth knowing. There is nary an extraneous word, paragraph, or scene. Richard Ford is a master storyteller.