“Canada,” by Richard Ford, is the 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winner’s latest novel. The story begins with the Parsons family moving to Great Falls, Montana, in 1956. Dell, the protagonist of “Canada,” and his twin sister, Berner, are 15 and love their parents despite their unusual childhood, moving from one air force base to another.
They have learned to hold back from making friends and try to feel content with not fitting in. They have each other, though Berner is now starting to seem to Dell like she is an older sister, not a twin. Their dad, Bev, is a southern guy with lots of charm and an easygoing way who is easily led into some scheme or other; the last one has forced his early retirement from the air force. Their mom is a petite, serious Jewish woman who probably never really loved their dad. The twins think their untimely birth probably brought their parents together. But still, it is a happy household, or so it seems.
When the police arrest their parents for robbing a bank, nothing is the same ever again for the twins, who are left on their own in this small Montana town. Berner runs away to California rather than be forced into a foster home. Dell is whisked off to Canada by a family friend and ends up in Saskatchewan.
The story is told through Dell’s eyes as he tries to make sense of what he observes. The narrator is the voice of the adult Dell, now a retired English teacher, and that of the 15-year-old. Before the event, he never would have thought his parents could rob a bank, but now, looking back, he remembers clues, strange looks or whispered comments. He remembers the day his dad went on a supposed business trip, the army revolver disappeared and how his dad’s mood changed at about the same time.
While in Canada, Dell witnesses another set of people. He is supposedly to be in the care of Arthur Remlinger, who is smart, well-dressed and who seems to be a nice person. In reality, he is “a union-hating, radical anti-authoritarian.” Arthur pays very little attention to Dell.
Mr. Ford makes the reader ponder the strangeness of how life turns out; it is also about losing the things one takes for granted.