Canada by Richard Ford

Things happen when people are not where they belong.
Reading this I did know moments of enervating toil – a couple of times the narrative seemed to hike off the beaten track; or perhaps circle repeatedly around the houses would be a better metaphor. They say editors dare not question the cartography of established writers – Murakami’s 19Q4 being the best example – and you definitely have the sense here that were this a novel by a debut author a landscape gardener would have been called in. However it was worth it in the end. In many ways Canada is an alternative to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Del is Roth’s Swede, an individual blustered by a single act of violence across the border of his comfort zone into a kind of dystopian hinterland where he has no coordinates. Arthur Remlinger is Ford’s Merry except, unlike Roth who only gives us the briefest glimpse of Merry’s life subsequent to her terrorist act, Ford gives his terrorist the spotlight. We are shown the deracinated and miscarriaging conditions of what it is to be an outcast from the law. In both novels one extraordinary act seeps out of the ordinary drift of days with barely a creak of a hinge. And in both novels there is the theme of guilt by association and the subsequent imperative to reassemble the building bricks of identity. One of the questions Ford asks is, is there an inevitability to what befalls us. Del with his youthful enthusiasm for chess and bee hives might already be shoring himself up against a premonition of future chaos with these two utopian templates of harmony and an almost foolproof order. Del’s twin sister has a boyfriend who, in his skittish unhinged qualities, foreshadows the two men Del will later be exiled in Canada with. So there’s a sense that, yes, there is a certain inevitability about what befalls us, though in a poignant passage not long before Del’s parents rob the bank Ford shows us how even this inevitability might be avoided –
I remember that night, now, as the best, most natural time our family had that summer–or any time. Just for a moment, I saw how life could go forward on a steadier, more reliable course. The two of them were happy and comfortable with each other. My father appreciated the way my mother behaved toward him. He paid her compliments on her clothes and her appearance and her mood. It was as if they’d discovered something that had once been there but had gotten hidden or misunderstood or forgotten over time, and they were charmed by it once more, and by one another. Which seems only right and expectable for married people. They caught a glimpse of the person they fell in love with, and who sustained life.

Sometimes we just hang on to the wrong memories of each other.


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