Tag Archives: Murder

Book Review: Canada by Richard Ford (3/5). A great American novel?

13 Oct

This book has been at the top of my ‘To-Read’ pile for way too long. A long time ago, when I used to have cable, The Colbert Report was my favorite show on TV. I saw an interview that Ford did with Colbert which you can watch here. It made me want to read the book. I saw an audiobook of it at my parents library and thought I’d grab it right when I joined Goodreads. That’s also right when I moved out of my parents house and no longer had access to the audiobooks in their library. Unfortunately, my new library didn’t have it so instead, I waited almost two years to read this and ended up picking up a discounted copy from Barnes and Noble. So, finally, I’m able to write this review, very long in the making.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Canada by Richard Ford

Dell Parsons knows that his sister is ugly, his mother is a social outcast, and that his dad is good at talking. As far as Dell is concerned, that’s enough. What he doesn’t know is that his parents are capable of robbing a bank and that when his parents are sent to jail, he’ll be sent to Canada. From the vantage point of time, Dell tells us the story of how he and his sister, Berner, are orphaned by outlaw parents and separated. She runs off to California and Dell is sent to live with the brother of a friend in rural Canada with a man who seems as at odds with the US rule of law as Dell’s own parents. Arthur Remlinger is a strange figure who’s hiding a few secrets of his own.

How can you not be intrigued by this opening line?

First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.

I mean, come on, that’s freaking sweet. I read somewhere that Ford writes a bit like John Irving, who is one of my all-time favorite authors. It’s a pretty good comparison. Both write sweeping epics but unlike Irving, Ford concentrated on a short part of Dell’s life and how it affected him. I like that this was a short snapshot. I could see Dell change from a lost kid who didn’t know any better to a young man who knew what was happening around him and how quickly it could change. It was a very literary novel and maybe I wasn’t in the mood for a literary novel because I started to drag through it toward the end.

The characters were eccentric enough that they were perfectly acceptable. Any character who’s too normal stands out from that normalcy, but Ford’s characters were quirky while still being real. The only part that seemed off to me was when Dell and Berner sleep together after their parents are arrested. At first I thought of (obviously) John Irving’s novel Hotel New Hampshire where the sexual tension between the main character and his sister plays a huge roll in the book. But in this title, there was nothing more to it. For one night, everything felt so wrong that sleeping with your own sibling seems fine, and they do. If it hadn’t been for that one scene, I could have been sold that this was non-fiction.

I liked Berner. I’m not sure I was supposed to, but I really enjoyed all the scenes she was in. Maybe the beginning of the book was my favorite because she was in it. Her negative outlook on life was oddly refreshing. I liked when she entered the picture again later in life as an aged woman. She still had the same cynicism from her youth, multiplied by bad men and too much time spent thinking. Charley Quarters tried to fill this role while Dell was in Canada, but it just wasn’t the same.

Sometimes we feel like we’re watching life happen around us and we’re no longer players in the game. I think that defines well how Dell felt through the whole book. He was never actively involved in the terrible things that happened around him but he was a witness to all of it. You pitied him, but at the same time he wasn’t a central character to his own story.

There are times when I feel like I’m watching things change around me. I think those times fade with age, but I remember when I was younger watching the effects of the 2006 recession touch my family and not being able to do anything but watch. It’s helpless being a child, but the only thing to cure it is waiting to grow older.

I loved the build-up to the robbery. I thought Ford built up the tension really well and I kept turning the pages faster and faster to see when it would finally happen and how Dell and Berner would be affected. My excitement for this carried all the way through until Dell crossed the border into Canada.

Richard Ford Image via the Pen Faulkner website.

Richard Ford
Image via the Pen Faulkner website.

I didn’t understand the scene where Dell went to the girls’ home looking for schooling. I think it perpetuated his love for education and desire to learn, but I didn’t get much else out of it. He was uncomfortable around the strong women, but other than Berner, there were no other strong women in the novel. Again, it’s a scene I would have taken out.

Youth is full of tragedy and when we’re young, the biggest tragedy is that we can’t change it. We’re stuck and powerless while we watch adults around us make decisions that affect our lives for a long time and feel the repercussions of those decisions. Dell was at the cusp of manhood at 15 but was powerless to change what was happening around him. There are so many books out now about powerful youths in the YA dystopian genre and I see this one as a strong mirror to that, showing how in this society and this time, youth can be very powerless.

Writer’s Takeaway: Ford’s style and formatting really stuck out to e in this novel. The short and long chapter changes kept me turning the pages to get to the next chapter but provided the detail and plot development I wanted when it was needed. Starting out with the sentence I’ve quoted above was a great move. The beginning was so focused on the bank robbery that knowing it was going to happen took away some guess-work and let Ford be more flexible with his time line. By the time I got to the murders at the end, I’d forgotten they were coming because I’d been so engrossed in the bank robbery. Giving away his own ending worked really well for him in the end.

A solid read, but not what I was in the mood for at the time. Three out of Five stars.

This book fulfills ‘Montana’ for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (4/5). Like Princess Diana’s death, if she was a model in 2010.

24 Apr

I waited five months for this audiobook and I think ‘devoured’ is the proper adjective to describe how quickly I got through it. I’ll admit that I wanted to read this book only once finding out that Robert Galbraith is a pen name for J.K. Rowling. I was semi-impressed by The Casual Vacancy and wanted to see if Rowling could do something else better. I think she succeeded.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Cormoran Strike is not what one thinks of when the word ‘hero’ is mentioned. Strangely tall, missing a leg and none-too attractive, Cormoran is down on his luck in a floundering private investigation business. To top it all off, he’s just broken up with his long-term girlfriend the same morning that John Bristow walks into his office. John wants Cormoran to re-investigate the death of his sister, super model Lula Landry, whose passing has been ruled a suicide. Thinking he’ll find nothing, Cormoran starts interviewing witnesses and friends and soon finds out that there was a lot more happening in the life of this rich and famous model that anyone originally though. It’s not only Lula’s secrets that Cormoran will uncover by the end of the book but those of most of London’s elite.

Having read all of Harry Potter and also The Casual Vacancy, I wasn’t sure what I should anticipate from this book. I knew it was about a PI, but I guess I didn’t expect it to be a mystery novel. I realized as I typed that how stupid it sounds. I guess you could say I went into this with an open mind. That seems fair.

One criticism I have for Rowling is that she has too many characters. For a seven book series, you can have hundred of characters, but for a stand-alone book like The Casual Vacancy or a book where (one assumes) the characters won’t re-appear in later installments, she tends to create too many. That being said, I love the characters she does create. She created characters that broke their own stereotypes. Ciara Porter is going to read Literature at Oxford, Lady Bristow is smotheringly affectionate, and Lula herself  seems to have a stronger moral compass than any of the characters put together. At the same time, some characters are exactly who you think they are, such as Allison and Cyprian. Rowling has a natural talent for creating characters.

Robin was by far my favorite character. I loved her fight between doing what she enjoyed and what she should. Even though her fiance Matthew tries to get her to take an HR position, she wants to stay with Strike so badly that she avoids telling him about the other position and has to defend her boss to her new fiance on a nightly basis. The decision between exciting detecting work and a better paying repetitive desk job haunts Robin’s time in the novel. I loved this because it mirrors how I feel about writing and books. I work to live. For me, life is about writing and throwing myself int a book and less about [insert what I do for a living here]. I’m jealous that Robin could do something she enjoyed for a living.

My other favorite character was Strike. I loved how he was an unlikely hero with so many layers. His time in the army affected him and in his investigations the father he’d never known defined him. I look forward to more books with Cormoran because I’d love to see where Galbraith goes with him.

I loved the part when Cormoran goes to a club with Ciara to meet Evan. I thought the way Ciara acted was a perfect stereotype of a dumb blonde model and it had me laughing the whole time. I could picture Duffield so perfectly in my head that I knew he was drawing his knees to his chest before it was in the narration. Strike was so out-of-place in the scene that it was overly comical and yet highly emotional, two feelings that played well of each other in Rowling’s appraising eye (can you tell yet I don’t know if I should refer to the author as Rowling or Galbraith?).

The one thing I didn’t like about the book (and I suspect this is personal preference) is that there weren’t many clues that Cormoran was figuring out the mystery until he finally reveals his findings to John in the book’s climactic scene. I would have liked to see Coromoran’s suspicions connecting along the way and the pieces falling into place. I suspected Tony Landry for a lot of the book but I couldn’t figure what about him I found fishy until Cormoran laid it all out. I think solving it a little at a time instead of all at once would have been better for me.

This book seemed a little like Princess Diana’s death to me because of the focus on media influence. Lula’s life was in turmoil because her privacy was constantly invaded by the media; her phone was tapped, they waited outside her flat, her relationship with Evan was public knowledge, and a picture of her dead on the street was front page news. I wonder if Rowling wanted to comment on this because of her new-found fame after the Potter success. I hope that there aren’t paparazzi lurking around her house and taking pictures of her kids after school. I’d feel really bad if they did.

Writer’s Takeaways: I think the one lesson I learned was even if a character is only appearing briefly, that’s no reason not to develop him or her. Rowling develops all of her characters so well when introduced and it’s a really admirable strength. However, if you can’t develop a character, maybe he or she isn’t needed. There is such thing as too many characters.

A really fun read. I greatly enjoyed it. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

Related Posts:
Review | Cormoran Strike: #1 The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling) | The Skeptical Reader
Book Review Wednesdays: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) | so writes rachael
Stephanie on Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith | Russell Books

 

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