Canada is not your usual crime novel. How many crime novels have you read where the focus is less on the crime, and more on how the crime affects the children left behind? It is an unusual premise, but it works. Author Richard Ford masterfully turns the genre on its head with Canada, the story of how fifteen year old Dale Parsons’ life continues after his parents go to jail for robbing a bank.
In a genre rife with pre-conceived plot lines and stereotypical characters, Dale’s story is all the more interesting because the reader is constantly contrasting it with what should be. Instead of being extraordinary, the criminals in the novel are more prosaic than a morning cup of coffee. Dale writes of his father: “the longer I delay characterizing my father as a born criminal, the more accurate this story will be.”
Even the narrative is unusual. Dale, the narrator, tells his story from the calmness of old age. The juxtaposition of the leisurely, emotionally muted delivery with the crazy events pulled me in as a reader. I think the tone of this novel is the most interesting thing about it. Aside from the genre deviations, Dale’s story also contrasts with normal human expectations. One’s country, culture, parents and twin sister should all be traditional areas of belonging, but not so for Dale. Everything he should be connected to, he is not. Dale is the classic displaced post-modern.
In retelling his story near the end of his life, Dale hopes to find acceptance and maybe even a glimmer of understanding. In the end, he decides, “I believe in what you see being most of what there is…hidden meaning is all but absent.” This defeatist, passive surrender to life’s fate is not a worldview that is necessarily admirable or imitable, but having walked with Dale through his journey, it is understandable. And ultimately, it is what allowed him to cope and adapt in ways that other members of his family could not. This is not your typical Agatha Christy, but like the country it was named after, Canada is charmingly rich in juxtapositions – a novel worthy of your study breaks.