Rob Brunner
May 18, 2012 AT 04:00 AM EDT


Current Status
In Season
Richard Ford
Ecco Press

We gave it a B+

”First, I’ll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later,” says 15-year-old Dell Parsons at the beginning of Richard Ford’s novel Canada, his first since 2006’s The Lay of the Land. Sure enough, that’s exactly what Dell does over the course of the next 415 pages: first the bank robbery, then the murders, each told in Ford’s exquisitely detailed, unhurried prose. When we meet him, Dell is living with his parents, Bev and Neeva, and twin sister, Berner, in Great Falls, Montana. It’s the summer of 1960, and he is a regular kid with a loving family and a promising future. He wants to learn how to play chess and can’t wait to start high school. ”Plans,” Dell soon discovers, ”didn’t always work out.”

Overcome by some combination of desperation and thwarted ambition and childish yearning for excitement, Dell’s father talks Neeva into helping him stage a hopelessly inept bank holdup. That decision — so easily made, so poorly thought out — will, of course, change everything. When their parents get caught, Berner runs away and Dell escapes to desolate Fort Royal, Saskatchewan, where he’s taken in by a mysterious hotel owner named Arthur Remlinger and things inch toward the second part of that deceptively straightforward first-sentence setup.

Ford is interested here in the ways snap decisions can bend life in unexpected directions — ”crossing a line and never being able to come back.” What makes people commit crimes? What are the real consequences? And how do you keep going after everything around you collapses? Canada‘s characters grapple with this last question in very different ways, and the answers they come up with define the rest of their lives, along with this quietly thoughtful book. B+

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