I see my last post was almost four months ago, while on Christmas break. Now I’m on spring break and catching up. The months in between? Too many papers to read and grade and not enough time to read. I did, however, also get sucked into Grey’s Anatomy and became a Netflix addict for awhile, often flying through several episodes in an evening. But prior to falling into hospital drama, I did read a few books and never got around to blogging about them. As I think back to Canada, I realize that by the time I finished reading, I was glad to be done. Maybe that’s why I never dove into a review.
The story starts out like a thriller. Narrated by 15 year-old Dell (though told from his reflective adult perspective), we find out in the first few sentences that his parents robbed a bank and killed someone. Set in the 1960’s, the first half of the novel focuses on Dell’s parents, specifically his father’s frustration about not making enough money. This was probably the most interesting part of the book because we get some insight into his father’s failures, and the family’s struggle to deal with them realistically. From the opening sentence we know that his parents resort to robbing a bank, yet it seems to take forever to actually reach the crucial scene. That would be fine if the lead up to this moment were better developed and driven by compelling character development, but it’s not. This is basically a suspense novel—except that the suspense too often drags out. Still, the first half of the book was much more interesting than the second half which focuses on Dell’s new life in Canada after his parents are put in jail. Arranged in advance by his mother, a woman he barely knows shows up and transports him north to her brother’s where Dell works in this guy’s shady hotel. The whole Canada part of the story didn’t do much for me. Again, Ford offers dramatic statements several times throughout the book (some version of “I only I had known then what I can see now…”) which leave us hanging for the page-turning drama that never seems to pan out. Honestly, I just never cared much about most of the characters that surround Dell in this part of the story, and as a result, I didn’t much care what happened.
That said, I do think this could have been a much better book if it were half the length. It feels like it should have been a novella. Its redeeming qualities—some of the characters, the theme of disillusionment, the suspense of the plot—too often get lost in meandering prose. Just as Dell struggled through this coming-of-age story trying to figure out how he’d sort through the tragic events of his life, Ford also seemed to be struggling through how to tell this story, or even what story he really wanted to tell. I did finish the book, but a Pulitzer Prize author shouldn’t leave me feeling like I have to slog through to the end. (fiction)