Friday, July 27, 2012

CANADA by Richard Ford (2012) Harper Collins Canada, 418 pages

Two years ago when I co-chaired the PEN Canada event that opened Toronto's International Festival of Authors I had the surreal pleasure of speaking with Richard Ford directly. In addition to his well-known Southern charm, what left an indelible mark was his comment: "Literature made me believe in a better place."

Every sentence in CANADA is written with care. The title, itself, he admits "makes a commotion in my chest when I say it." He's a writer who respects the sound and rhythm of words. Part of his process includes reading the manuscript aloud, a step that essentially contributes to the final copy in your hands.

Although Del Parsons, the narrator, did not resonate with me the way Ford's Frank Bascombe continues to, his thoughts made me consider Ford not only one of the finest social satirists writing today, but also someone verging on philosopher king. Consider these two passages, both of which are so exquisitely expressed that reading them in isolation would be enough to lure me to read the book:

"Loneliness, I've read, is like being in a long line, waiting to reach the front where it's promised something good will happen. Only the line never moves, and other people are always coming in ahead of you, and the front, the place where you want to be, is always farther and farther away, until you no longer believe it has anything to offer you."

"What I know is, you have a better chance in life--of surviving it--if you tolerate loss well; manage not to be a cynic through it all; to subordinate, as Ruskin implied, to keep in proportion, to connect the unequal things into a whole that preserves the good, even if admittedly good is often not simple to find. We try. All of us. We try."

Literature makes me believe in a better place. It does. It will.

(Richard Ford, Eleanor Wachtel, and Mark Kingwell in Fleck Dance Theatre green room, October 2010, before PEN Canada's benefit, THE LAY OF THE LAND, opening night IFOA)

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