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By Richard Ford. Ecco, $28.
In Richard Ford’s new novel, a bank robbery transforms a bordering nation into a place of escape not for the criminals responsible, but for the 15-year-old son they leave behind. Canada may be only a few miles from the Parsons family’s Montana home, but once Bev and Neeva Parsons are arrested for their crime, the nation to the north represents another life and another state of mind for their cerebral son, Dell. And while the land of the Canucks provides our protagonist with time to think and adult responsibilities, he is also forced to consider his father’s sins and his own culpability in them.
The first fragment of Canada examines the circumstances that drive Dell’s parents to their desperate act and the subsequent incarceration that sends Dell’s twin sister Berner on the lam and Dell across the border with a family friend. The story’s second half homes in on Dell and his guardian in the North, a mysterious hotelier named Arthur Remlinger who enlists Dell’s help in a way that will redefine the boy’s life for a second time.
To those who have read any of Ford’s Frank Bascombe novels, the author’s assured hand will be familiar. It’s difficult to overlook the narrative conveniences linking the two major plot points (e.g., unexpected crimes committed by Dell’s father figures) or the space taken up by the narrator’s ruminative digressions. But Ford’s keen, philosophical analysis of human motivation and its subtle inconsistencies make the reader forgive the long haul. Canada just might come to represent a different state of mind for the rest of us, too.