Author: Richard Ford
Peter Taylor. John Steinbeck. Richard Ford. Summons to Memphis, East of Eden, and now Richard Ford’s masterpiece, Canada.
Dell and Berner Parsons, 15 year old fraternal twins, live with their parents, Bev and Neeva Parsons, in Great Falls, Montana. Their mother, Neeva, daughter of Jewish immigrants, teaches school. Their father, Bev, has never recovered from leaving the Army Air Corps (which later became the Air Force), demoted from Captain to First Lieutenant because of a supply officer scam selling stolen beef supplied and butchered by Indians to the officer’s club at the Army base. Previously, in the Army, he was a war hero dropping bombs on Japan and has the ribbons to prove it. But Bev, slightly shady, charming, handsome and lazy, cannot seem to get a job right as a civilian. Bev and Neeva are opposites: Neeva, ethnic looking, small, intellectual, cynical and skeptical of life and unhappy in her marriage. Bev is unhappy perhaps, but never stops to dwell on anything unpleasant.
Dell and Berner, close as children, moving from base to base and town to town, have no friends. But Dell is optimistic, curious and thoughtful, while Berner has chosen to become the wild child with a rather boring boyfriend whom she plans to run away with. At fifteen, they are going on different paths. But both children know they are well loved by Bev and Neeva.
When Bev cannot make money selling cars, he returns to the scheme that proved his downfall in the Army. He decides to contact the Indians again for beef to sell to the Great Northern Railroad via a head waiter in the dining car service, Spencer Digby. Digby of course hated the Indians and the Indians hated Digby, and Bev, thinking everyone liked and trusted everyone gets caught owing the Indians $2,000 when Digby runs off with the beef and the money. The head Indian comes to the house and tells Bev he will kill Bev and his family if he doesn’t get his money. Bev decides that he will rob a bank, for how hard could that be? It will solve his money problems and no one will get hurt, because after all, the money is the government’s money. He suggests the scheme to Neeva and tells her he wants to take along Dell for the robbery. Neeva tells him she will go with him instead of Dell. She is horrified but knows the Indian is good to his word, and her family is in peril.
The Parsons get caught and sent to prison, leaving Dell and Berner alone, terrified that the state will come and send them to an orphanage. Neeva has set up her friend Mildred as a backup to take the children to safety. It is all laid out in Neeva’s A Chronicle of a Crime Committed by a Weak Person, a journal she has written in prison before she committed suicide rather than stay in prison for life. Dell tells the tale that follows reading from his mother’s chronicle as well as what developed when Berner ran away just before Mildred came to take him to her brother’s hotel in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Only Mildred’s brother Arthur Remlinger is a criminal running from a crime he committed in the U.S. as an American citizen. As Dell is thrown into the bowls of hell, he doesn’t have the maturity to understand that he is amongst murderers. He does the best that he can.
Ford delineates his story in the august and lonely melancholy of a man looking back at his life. Now in his sixties, Dell tells the story as he has a last meeting with Berner, who is dying. He has only seen her two or three times after he escaped to school from Saskatchewan.
Sometimes we weep when a story suggests a sadness that seeps through our pores. Ford provides more. His faultless prose, his empirical compassion, his deep understanding of human need and fault drives Canada into a place that is more than soul. Absolutely pure writing. Absolutely pure novel. The best of the best.
Canada is now available for purchase.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.