Monday, July 16, 2012

Canada, the novel, not the country

Ford, Richard.  Canada

Do children ever understand the actions and motivations of their parents? Or do they see them as they see other adults -- mysterious, illogical tall providers of the necessities of life? And do parents consider the welfare of their children when weighing the implications of a major undertaking? For fifteen-year-old Dell Parsons and his twin sister Berner, their apparently mismatched parents provide loving if not totally comfortable support in the unglamorous city of Great Falls, Montana, until their father undertakes a disastrous adventure.
One of the results is that the two are, essentially, abandoned.  The novel follows Dell as he is swept up and delivered to new surroundings in Saskatchewan, Canada, where he is put to work by the eccentric owner of the town's one hotel.  Over the summer and into the fall of this critical year, he learns to become more observant and independent. However, he becomes an unwilling participant in situations, from goose hunting to the unraveling of several adult lives, which will mark him through the rest of his life.
The novel's title is well selected:  Canada is indeed the main subject of the story.  Ford describes the dusty, dilapidated towns, the aimless-appearing routines of rural Western Canada in precise detail, and his mix of characters is well thought out.  Unfortunately, the narrator is so passive and innocent that he is not v ery interesting, nor is he convincing as a 15-year-old, even in the 1960s.
There are other odd aspects of the book that make me wonder why it has been so highly praised and  lavishly publicized.  The plot elements seem to be strung together without much concern for consistency.  Why does the author use contractions like "would've" and "could've"? The tight focus of the story keeps us concentrated on a half-dozen characters, but not one of them is attractive (well, possibly Florence, the hotel-owner's lady friend, is an exception).
Is the message that human relationships invariably lead to pain and loss? Or that most lives are fairly pedestrian?
And why, since my reaction, having finished the book this afternoon, am I so critical of it, when I was glued to my Kindle throughout, unwilling to stop reading even for an hour or so?


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