Thursday, May 17, 2012


Richard Ford

Ecco, 2012

For the Parsons family everything began not with a crime, but one crime has forever changed their lives. Dell Parsons was a 15-year-old boy at the time when major events of the book happened. He remembers every detail of the events of that summer, when he is already 65 years old.

From the first page the narrator tells us what has turned his life and the lives of his twin sister and his parents upside down. Della's parents, Bev and Neeva, robbed a bank, although, according to Dell, they were probably the last people on earth, of whom one might have thought that they would be armed robbers.

Della's father, Bev Parsons, was a military pilot, participated in the Second World War, and after 1945 was transferred to a desk work, in the rank of captain. Della's mother, Neeva, was the daughter of Polish immigrants, a teacher with a Jewish appearance. Together with two children twins Parsons did not stay anywhere for long. They lived in small towns, where military bases were located, and where he Bev served. The family was so used to wandering, and that no one really thought that they would settle in one place.

Dell’s sister, Berner, was the opposite of his brother. She was taller that him, with boyish good looks, intelligence and self-willed. They never had friends; they were friends only among themselves. The family stopped in the town Great Falls in 1956, where they lived until the spring of 1960, when the central events of the novel happened.

This is a great book, not crumbling under its own weight. Richard Ford paints his picture slowly, but the main part is known from the beginning - an armed robbery would be committed, and will forever change the lives of one family. Thus, here is more important "how" and "why" rather than "what will happen next." Details, that is what matters, and Ford is just a master of details. The protagonist Dell recalls the smallest details of that fateful summer, with such precision and certainty, as if it was he who kept a diary, not his mother.

The narrative about the past from the present results here for a stunning effect. 15-year-old boy at the time knew nothing, understood nothing and didn’t know what to think. This ignorance is what Ford transfers matsrefully. But at the same time telling the story, as a 65-year-old man, the protagonist knows the causes and consequences and adds in the narrative a judgment from adult’s point of view. What then seemed a trifle, and there wasn’t obvious, 50 years later it is quite obvious. So, uncomplicated adolescent mind is clouded with doubts and regrets of an elderly person. At the same time, 65-year-old Dell does not allow sentimentality and anger in his story. He does not play the game "what if ...". There is no if, for all that had happened, it is already happened. Dell has never been the kind of person that changed his own fate.

Looking at Dell and his sister, we can easily view the differences between them. She is more experienced, close to the living, sentient life, but not tending to the material side of life. Dell is a much more passive, obedient (in response to his father, he always calls him "sir"), he is interested in bees and chess, those things, which are unlikely to ever be useful to him in life. When after his sister’s escape he is still waiting for a mother’s friend, he has no hope for the best; he just gives himself to the discretion of fate. However, in the final part, we see that no matter how different are brother and sister, how they seem dissimilar, their fate is about the same. According to Ford, the fate is God, from whom there is no escape. We try, wrote Ford in the final sentence. We try, but all happens how it’s needed to the fate. We can only try. It’s ineresting to see that neither Dell nor his sister had any children. Childhood trauma has left its mark. Brother and sister did not take responsibility for future generations.

Ford chose such method of storytelling that allowed him to reveal the possible motives of his characters. The author first describes an episode from the point of view of 15-year-old Dell, so much remains a mystery in each episode. And almost immediately, Ford once again describes the same scene, already with all the details that the 15-year-old boy could not have known. This structure keep a reader always in tension (the main thing here is motive, detail, depth of style), and gives the author place to think about fate.

Canada in the novel is a kind of metaphor. Dell’s escape was against his will, Remlinger’s escape was a conscious choice. But they both are the same people as they were before Canada. "Canada" is a state of mind, an internal runaway. But on whatever side of the border a person stands, he remains what he was. People do not change because they do not govern themselves. They are in the hands of fate.

This story is so emotionally gripping that it is hard to imagine anything more perfect. Ford actually had given the name "Canada" to hitherto not named state of the soul, and for this we should be grateful to him.

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