I don't know what to write about this book. But I had a dream that I was writing about it here, so I know I must write something, so moved by it I was.
Richard Ford's Canada was on my summer reading list, and one of the first books I read so I could mail it off to my brother. He lives in Montana. He knows Great Falls. We have driven up by the Rocky Mountain Front and looked out over the mountains together with a sense of bewilderment and strange recognition, as if our brotherly-sisterly life has been, all this time, steering us on a course towards Montana.
I was moved by this book because there is a lot of movement in it, internal and external - gradual, glacier-like, sweeping. When I finished it I felt full of Montana. It's a place of animal. A place of extreme distance. It has become a place of spirits for me. I feel there are many, many ghosts in Montana; more in the places where people fought for gold or copper, and lost. It's a seemingly hollow place, a limitless place. I realized you have to spend time there, get know the people and the landscape, to understand that it is not limitless. It is full of too much Earth to be limitless. I felt the edges of my human that much more there. I felt that thrilling terror of being rooted to something much more spacious than spaces, of being hooked to a mix of cloud and history.
When I left Montana after my first visit, I wanted to bring something back with me to continue to conjure its spirit in my little Midwestern life. I feared losing the sense of grandeur and depth I'd experienced so intimately there. That feeling was now living in my love for my brother. To sustain it would mean I might conjure him back into memory, call him close to me as I lived my life in another region of the U.S.
My brother took me to a used book store days before we departed and I found Ford's Wildlife. I knew Ford's work from reading The Sportwriter. An old friend convinced me to read it one summer. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed Frank Bascombe.
Canada reminded me of Wildlife in its telling of a boy's life thrown up against the Montana landscape while he struggles with his parents failing relationship, and how all of that struggle starts turning him into a man. Wildlife was trapped for me, though, in human relationships. It didn't conjure the fullness of the land for me. It didn't leave me feeling both haunted and seen in the ways Montana had left me feeling haunted and seen.
Canada did leave me feeling haunted and seen. Part One is nearly half the book. In it, Dell, the fifteen year old boy who narrates the story, tells of his parents preparations to rob a bank. It is so steady, his narration, full of sad, lingering details. It's here that Ford brilliantly establishes the time-sense of the book. He's not forgiving because the story isn't forgiving. Both he and Dell take their time. At one point, I walked away and wondered if maybe, by some chance, the parents don't rob a bank. They are saved and the story takes a decent corner.
No. It doesn't. It persists. And in the persisting Ford ends up taking you down into those moments before a bad, bad choice is made. He shows you how good people go wrong.
In Part Two, human weaknesses and wrongness deepen when Dell is taken into Canada to flee his parents, now in jail, and his orphan status. Dell carries on through all of this with a distance in him that, for me, mirrors the distance of life in Montana. It's a certain reserve and surrender to your life as it is lived. A person becomes like the sky and their life like the weather, as Pema Chodren says: 'You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.' Dell has a lot of sky in him. Like in this passage:
"On the days when Charley did not take me onto the prairie to learn about geese, and when I didn't stay in Fort Royal and could be alone in my shack without constant despairing, I actually began to experience the illusion of being someone who had an almost happy life and hadn't been given up on, and who still carried on an existence that, as my father would've said, made sense.
Time, in truth, didn't seem to pass. I might've been alone in Partreau for a month, or six months or even longer, and it would've seemed the same, the first day or the hundredth, so that a small, impermanent world became created for me. I knew eventually I'd go somewhere else - to a school, even to a Canadian school, or possibly to a foster home, or by some means back below the border to whatever was waiting for me. And that this present life and its daily patterns and routines and persons wouldn't last forever or even for much longer. But I didn't think as much about that as someone might imagine I would. It was a frame of mind, as I said, my father would've approved of." (pg. 263)
Dell is up against a lot of weather. What he finds in Canada I will not write about. Ford took me so close to the edges of a mind rotted with darkness - close in the same way he took me close in Part One to how easily a good mind can go dark - that there is nothing more to write on that. Read the book.
When I finished Canada, I went on-line to look for reviews, words that might capture some of my feelings felt after spending time feeling things the way Ford wanted me to. I found this interview by Tim Adams in The Guardian | The Observer. I like how Ford talks about the book, his life, writing. I think you might like it, too.