Canada by Richard Ford

I randomly picked ‘Canada’ by Richard Ford off the shelf in a shop not long after it was first published last year and turned to the first page.  I was immediately struck by the first two sentences: “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed.  Then about the murders, which happened later.”  As opening lines go, I found those to be pretty memorable and also very intriguing.

‘Canada’ is very much driven by its characters and the main strength of the novel lies in Dell Parson’s convincing voice as he recounts what happened in Great Falls, Montana in 1960 when he and his twin sister Berner were fifteen years old.  Effectively abandoned after his parents are arrested, Dell ends up in Saskatchewan and soon discovers that creating a new life for himself certainly isn’t going to be easy.

The saying ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover’ is already well-known but with regard to ‘Canada’, I would also add ‘Never judge a book by its opening lines’.   The story is much more about the resulting aftermath rather than the crimes themselves and after the impact of the opening sentences, I found ‘Canada’ as a whole to be quite slow.  At first, I found this a bit frustrating as I didn’t feel like I was making much progress with the story at all for the first 200 pages.  However, I also think the more sedate pace blended in well with the epic atmosphere of the book.  

Overall, I really liked Ford’s writing which was weirdly sparse yet dense at the same time although I feel it did lack a bit of momentum in certain places.  As ‘Canada’ is the first novel by Richard Ford that I’ve read, I don’t really know if it is representative of his work in general or not.  I have a copy of ‘The Sportswriter’ which is the first book in the Frank Bascombe trilogy and is widely regarded to be one of his best novels so I plan to read that in the future.    If you have read either ‘Canada’ or any of Ford’s other novels, please let me know your thoughts.


Filed under Books

12 responses to “Canada by Richard Ford

  1. Richard Ford is no John Updike but you might find it interesting to compare Ford’s Bascombe trilogy with Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom. Both are worth reading (but the Updike is required, of course).


  2. Thanks for this review. I picked this book up this year in the exact way that you did – because I was absolutely intrigued by the first two sentences. I haven’t read it yet, so am glad to read your take on it here. I’ll probably make the plunge in 2014.


  3. Thanks for the reminder about Canada! I’ve read The Sportswriter, but ages ago, and would need to read it again before reading the whole trilogy, which I’ve been intending to do. Canada was one I meant to read when it came out and then time went by and I still haven’t read it.


  4. One of my closest friends read this title with her book club quite a few months ago. I remember her talking about how different Ford’s story was compared to others she was used to reading. She said worth reading for it’s shock value. The first lines sure do seem to pull you in. Thanks for reminding me about this one. Will try to read it one day when I acquire the book.


  5. Brave you, to pick a book randomly. I find this a good reminder to take some risks since I am usually following a recommendation!


  6. In line with my decision to read books appropriate to the countries I visited this year I took Canada and A Piece of my Heart on my eReader while I was away for 3 months. RF obviously goes for the arresting first sentence! The opening lines of the latter title are:

    W.W came down over the levee in the rain, his old Plymouth skidding out of the ruts and his gun barrel pointed wildly out of the window, still warm from being shot…

    This novel is written in seven parts with a prologue and an epilogue, the parts swing between two characters Robard Hewes and Sam Newel and it is a great read. It draws the reader in and wraps around your imagination like a scarf, winding and unwinding, warm and comfortable and then too hot! I hadn’t read anything by RF before and these two novels were a great introduction. I would have preferred to read the books, as opposed to the words [a personal view of eReaders not a judgement] but who can go abroad today with enough books for a 3 month trip when even trains (in America) have a weight restriction?


  7. I’ve been meaning to read the Bascombe trilogy for ages, but have never gotten round to it. Perhaps I should just dive in and go for it – your review certainly adds to the general impression I have that I am missing something, having not read anything by Richard Ford.


  8. Did you see today’s interview with Amy Tan in the New York Times book review? She raved about Canada.


  9. Nice write up. I have to say that I’m a fan of Ford and I consider that this may be his best work – I loved it (and reviewed it on my own blog to say so a while back!). I found the narrator’s voice in this book to be beautifully languid and the writing to be wise – I guess that’s why the pace worked well for me – I never felt that it was slow.

    The Sportswriter is another great novel. But it’s tone is also languid. I absolutely recommend that you give it a go – and be positive – but you’ve been warned!


  10. I am a huge fan of Ford’s Bascombe Trilogy. I heard Ford interviewed on KCRW Bookworm podcast prior to reading Canada, so I knew it would be slow and sad, and a statement about loneliness and alienation. One aspect of the trilogy that is the same as in Canada for me is that lots of the action takes place inside the character’s heads. Do try the trilogy.


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