While Canada sets up numerous scenes that teeter on the edge of the comic, they usually slide into the pathetic, macabre, or hallucinatory. The novel’s forlorn tone—of thoughts that lie too deep for tears—quite naturally grows out of the narrator’s painful recollections of a close family destroyed by a foolish act of parental desperation. Ford really excels, however, in his virtuoso command of narrative suspense. He makes us wait … Each part of Canada is superb in its own way, and, as Dell tells us, there are links between them. Nonetheless, the two halves differ as much as the Parsons twins do. While the Montana chapters might be likened to a modernized western (Indians, cattle rustling, a bank holdup), the second half presents a Southern Gothic vision of the North, complete with the depraved half-breed servant, the elegant, corrupt master, dark family secrets, good ol’ boys drinking, whoring, and hunting, and finally the awaited revenant from the buried past.
On a purely plot-hungry basis, turning the page seems the only thing to do, but — as is so often the case with the fiction of Richard Ford — what actually happens in the story feels secondary, or at best equal, to the language itself … Canada is blessed with two essential strengths in equal measure — a mesmerizing story driven by authentic and fully realized characters, and a prose style so accomplished it is tempting to read each sentence two or three times before being pulled to the next … Canada is a tale of what happens when we cross certain lines and can never go back. It is an examination of the redemptive power of articulated memory, and it is a masterwork by one of our finest writers working at the top of his form.
If one is looking for a powerful through-line of suspense and drama, one will not find it in this book: instead, one must take a more scenic and meditative trip. There are novels that are contraptions, configured like cages, traps, or flypaper, to catch things and hold them. Canada is more contrary: searching and spliced open and self-interrupted by its short slicing chapters, then carried along again by a stream of brooding from a son and brother with a hundred questions and only a few answers … Ford’s language is of the cracked, open spaces and their corresponding places within. A certain musicality and alertness is required of the reader; one has to hear it instinctively and rhythmically.