Richard Ford’s Canada is one of the best books I’ve read in years, reminds me of a string I hit years ago: In the Lake of the Woods, Snow Falling on Cedars, and The House of Sand and Fog, whose author Andre Dubus III wrote The New York Times’ review of Canada.
In Canada, Ford perfectly captures my memories of growing up in the 1950s and 60s: that sense of what normal was–which included a mother making dinner every night (which made my family not normal) with dishes that involved baloney, taking long car trips without questioning at all whether you wanted to or not, having your own room which you retreated to and read for hours.
He ignores the cardinal rule that is now pounded into writers, about showing not telling. The entire novel is told in first-person past tense by an aging teacher, 66 years old, an account of events that had happened 50 years in the past, in 1960. The narrator’s voice is stunning in its simplicity, its mildness, complete with awkward constructions and artless observations. The narrator evinces profound acceptance and lack of judgment, despite the horrific events previewed in the novel’s first line.
He also, like Trollope, often, constantly even, gives away the plot hundreds of pages before the events take place, not just in that wonderful first line. But his hand-showing does nothing to deflate the tension of the narrative. As Ford says, it merely baits the hook.
And a cast of the most vivid, exquisitely realized, characters I’ve ever encountered, from the eccentric Metiz Charley Quarters, to the bank robbing parents, to the mysterious rich American in the wilds of Saskatchewan, painstakingly, intimately described.
Just realized I am visualizing most of the novel in black and white, with spots of color, like the red and white Bellaire (we had a maroon and white one). The plains, the snow geese, the snow, the bleached out main streets of prairie towns in the ’50s.
Just finished the Battle of Borodino in War and Peace. The beautiful Helene is trying to decide which of her two suitors to marry, while her husband Pierre witnesses the battle.
15. Canada, Richard Ford
13-14. The Gray Wolf Throne, The Crimson Crown, Cinda Williams Chima
11-12. Blood of Dragons, The Princess and the Piebald Prince, Robin Hobb.
10. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5-9. The Kellys and the O’Kellys, John Calidgate, Mr. Scarborough’s Family, The Macdermonts of Ballycloran, The Claverings, Anthony Trollope
4. Splendors and Glooms, Laura Amy Schlitz
3. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, The Countess of Carnavon
2. Marion Fay, Anthony Trollope
1. Castle Richmond, Anthony Trollope
2. The Exiled Queen, Cinda Williams Chima
1. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy