This is my review, on Goodreads: I was convinced upon having read Richard Ford’s <i>Independence Day</i> years ago that my immersion in those pages imbued me with new powers of observation and insight into the minds of prospective home buyers and sellers. This job training by proxy was in addition to the effect of several hours of intense counseling, having been steeped thoroughly in the worldview and psychological state of its main character, Frank Bascombe. When I’d finished the novel, I felt qualified to go get a real estate license and begin a new career that would allow me to find inner equilibrium, face my personal demons and heaviest regrets, and make the world somewhat better for those clients I would soon serve. This was a passing dementia, but strong, nevertheless.
While <i>Canada</i> on its face has nothing to do with the more contemporary Bascombe trilogy, it is every bit as rich and complex if you’re looking at how a character can communicate his thought processes and state of mind from within the story. The narrator, the now-adult Dell Parsons, recounts the time he was fifteen and his world was detonated by his parents’ hapless reaction to external stresses. While the events themselves are riveting, the value of the novel lies in Dell’s recollection and storytelling, his ability to explain how children (or adolescents) think and react and construct coping mechanisms for events beyond their control. There is also a case to made for optimism, a commendation for people lucky enough to be born to choose the least-bad from an array of poor and poorer options.
Dell emerges as a singular personality, separate from his identity as a son and twin brother from a family of outcasts; the now-adult narrator has been able to see the maturation and articulate it within the narrative. Is it coming-of-age? Well, it’s not so easy to boil the novel down to a “this” or “that.” It’s Dell’s story, first. But it’s also a clear portrait of a primitive and clannish America of 1960, before civil rights and Vietnam or the looming horror of our now post-9/11 and our utter surrender to our ugliest inclinations. <i>Canada</i> doesn’t romanticize the era; cast-offs and poor people and minorities are at the forefront, and cruelty pervades. Yet in the middle of all that, in the formative part of his life, Dell is still a child, even at fifteen, with an aching need to be loved and recognized as part a family of man. And then he lives his life accordingly.
And so now I have a new tool in my kit, a way to see my life play out and try to make the most of my days, a way try to avoid judging too harshly those people I know who are unable to see their lives with that same spirit that things might improve. Ford’s writing is generous, and he evokes for me one of many artists who produce a superlative spirit of American writing. I admire and respect the work, and will not apologize for my belief that some books make us better.