Canada by Richard Ford

Richard Ford’s Canada unravels like a long spaghetti Western.  Narrated by Dell Parsons, now a retired math teacher,  recalling the turning point in his life – when his parents robbed a bank when he was fifteen years old, the geography of Canada does not appear until the second half of the book.  By then, clearly, the plot is secondary.

As Dell describes the details of his mismatched parents and the strangeness of his twin sister, their lives after Dell’s father retires from the Air Force take on a surreal simplicity.  No one is satisfied: his mother yearns for a better life, preferably with another husband in another place; his father, the Alabama hustler, is always looking for easy street; his sister, Berner, in the throes of adolescent hormones, closes herself off.  Ford concentrates on the minutia of their lives, so that you readily “accept and understand” them.  Knowing the bank robbery has happened and the parents have been sent to jail – in the first page – you are still compelled to know more.

To avoid the juvenile authorities, Dell’s mother has arranged for her friend Mildred to drive the children to Saskatchewan, Canada to live with Mildred’s brother, Arthur Remlinger.  Berner runs away,  but Dell escapes to Canada;  the second half of the book creates a seemingly unrelated story to the first half with Dell trying to adjust to a new hard life, while trying to forget his old one.  Eventually, Arthur, a fugitive himself, involves Dell in a bigger crime than bank robbery.

Ford ends the narrative by reuniting Dell,  a sixty-five year old Canadian math teacher, with his dying sister, startlingly contrasting the effect of their childhood trauma on their lives.

You’ll need time and patience for this book.  Ford’s astute observations coined in tight phrases kept me reading to the anticlimactic ending:

“…life changing events can seem not what they are.”

“Your life’s going be a lot of exciting ways before you’re dead. So just pay attention to the present.”

“Canada had everything America ever had, but no one was mad about it.”

“…you have a better chance in life – of surviving it – if you tolerate loss well; manage not to be a cynic through it all…to connect the unequal things into a whole that preserves the good, even if admittedly good is often not simple to find…”

A Book I Could Not Finish

A rainy day with a library book unsullied by any other reader; the book is a new copy – Ben Marcos’s The Flame Alphabet – and I’d be the first to read it, but I couldn’t get past the first 50 pages.

Marcos has a reputation for strange stories full of metaphors. In The Flame Alphabet the premise is that children’s voices are lethal for adults. Anyone who has survived a teenager in the house might sympathize with the parents who are assailed by their teen daughter’s disdainful comments, and the futuristic story does seem to play on the irony of parent-child relationships.  Frustrated by the parents’ escape plans and the descriptions of others who were tortured by any sounds, even pleasant ones, from children, I turned to the New York Times reviewer for some incentive to continue.

You can read Robert Lennon’s review – here – and decide for yourself.  I moved on to another book.

Reviewing a Book I Will Not Read: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

By now you’ve heard the roar, maybe seen the interviews of the Yale professor who wrote a parody, or a manual, for child rearing – depending on your point of view.  More have an opinion on The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother than have actually read it.

Amy Chua has written other – more serious books: World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability and  Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance-and Why They Fall  – neither one as controversial or as readable as her current bestseller.

In her Wall Street Journal article, Amy Chua tells Why Chinese Mothers are Superior – her preface to the book.  Elizabeth Kolbert offers her commentary on America’s Top Parent in the New Yorker.   Chua has been interviewed by them all – including Colbert (Colbert vs. Tiger Mom video).

Enough – actually too much –  information for me…

I think I’ll watch the Superbowl instead today –

Go Stealers – make your mothers proud!