Canada by Richard Ford
This novel is as bleak, austere, and desolate as the featureless plains that stretch between Great Falls, Montana and Port Royal, Saskatchewan, Canada, where most of the events in the book take place. The main character is Dell Parsons, a fifteen year old boy, an army brat who has moved all over America with his father, Bev Parsons, his mother Geneva, and his twin sister Berner. At the beginning we encounter Dell and family living in Great Falls, Montana where Bev is enlisted in the Air Force and works at the nearby air base. His mother Geneva (called Neeva) is a substitute teacher at a local school district.
Things really aren’t going very well for this family. It was a shotgun wedding for the parents, and they don’t get along. Dell tries to keep his wits while around him the family is disintegrating. Bev, the father gets involved in some illegal activities with the local Indians, and from there events take a turn for the worse. The parents are involved in a botched robbery attempt and Dell and his sister find themselves cast out into a hostile world. They separate and go to their quite different fates. With the parents in prison Dell is sent by family to live with a distant relative in Fort Royal, Saskatchewan. This move is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. In Fort Royal, he meets Arthur Remlinger, a dark, foreboding, and slightly sinister hotel owner and raconteur. Arthur has a lot of secrets that he wants to keep secret. He takes a liking to Dell if only for sinister purposes.
The novel is written from the point of view of Dell after fifty years have passed, and the events in the story have faded into the haze of history. As he puts it “what I know is, you have a better chance in life, –of surviving it—if you tolerate loss well; manage not to be cynical through it all, to subordinate as Ruskin implied, to keep proportion, to connect the unequal things into a whole that preserves the good, even if admittedly good is often not simple to find. We try, as my sister said. We try. All of us. We try.”
I tried this book because the setting reminded me of books by Larry Watson, author of Montana 1948, which I had enjoyed. I actually finished this book which is a good sign, but it was a real downer. I agree with one of the reviewers on Amazon who stated: “While the basic story is very interesting, too much of the book is taken up with descriptions and un-necessary details.”