A starred Kirkus review praised Richard Ford’s Canada as “a great American novel by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author.” It may well be his best, certainly his most powerful since 1995’s Independence Day.
The mother and father of 15-year-old twins, living in Montana, inexplicably (or perhaps inevitably) commit a bank robbery. Their son narrates the novel, from his memories 50 years later, within the Canadian exile where he has distanced himself from his parents’ legacy, and where he has progressed from innocence to a recognition of how little he once knew—and what more he might possibly know now.
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What is the relationship in the novel between the country of its title and the country to the south?
Boy, if I could paraphrase that, I wouldn't have needed to write a novel called Canada. But I'll just say this—inadequate though it'll be: I've long experienced dense, unspecified and almost entirely positive feelings about Canada. These feelings were the feelings of an American, which I am. I thought if I could find a narrative way to put these feelings, and others I'd figure out along the way, "into play," then I might have a chance to get at something important and otherwise unreachable by standard logic.
I also was attracted to the idea of borders—physical ones, moral ones, personal ones. I wanted to put that into the mix, too. If the novel I wrote is any good, it'll be the only link available to the sense I've made of all this.
This story could have been told, and told very differently, from different perspectives. How did you decide on the young son as the narrator? And which came first—the narrative voice or the plot?
Coming to the matter of who narrates a story is probably the most instinctual, un-calculated thing I do. When I'm making the initial notes for a story or a novel, I write those notes and can at once "hear" how the subsequent story will be told; if it's, so to say, in "third person" or "first" or some variant.
And as to which came first, plot or the decision on how to tell it, I'm not sure I know, although I'm flattered that you think anything I write has a plot. All these formal concerns, however, get found out more or less simultaneously.
How trustworthy is your narrator? Does the reader’s relationship with him change as the novel progresses?
I don't put much stock in the old notion of "reliable" versus "unreliable" narrators. I think readers understand that narrators are pieces of artifice, and that they [readers] are responsible at all times for what they will and won't find plausible. In that way being a reader is very much being an ordinary citizen—you need to pay attention to who's talking to you, and to what you're being told, because there are consequences.
Your narrator invokes the concepts of “ordinary” and “normal” frequently, once remarking that he’s “intrigued by how ordinary behavior exists so close besides its opposite,” and that “It’s a mystery how we are. A Mystery.” Is he any closer to solving that mystery by the novel’s end?
He's closer to the mystery, although not perhaps closer to solving it, which is a lesson right there, I suppose. In his life, he comes to make saving decisions for himself—about how to live within normal parameters [moral ones, emotional ones, familial ones], and feels by the last page that he's succeeded. It's a book with a positive ending, if you ask me. Mysteries are not always to be solved but survived.
In your acknowledgements you write, “William Maxwell’s presence will be obvious.” How has the writing of the celebrated novelist influenced your own?
So Long, See You Tomorrow, is a book that all writers adore—and probably all people who are not writers, too. Truth is, the "great American novel" is probably "the great American short novel." Think about it. So Long, See You Tomorrow, is shockingly succinct and affecting, vivid, full of mystery, quite American in its concerns, formally subtle and various, covers lots of real estate and can't be summed up except by reading it. Nobody who does read it will ever not be in its thrall—which is different from wanting to emulate it. Only a goofball would want to do that.