Richard Ford talks: ‘Canada’

20 september 2014

_Canada_ is a 2012 novel by American author Richard Ford. The novel follows 15-year-old Dell Parsons, who must learn to fend for himself after his parents are arrested for robbing a bank. The book also re-visits Great Falls, Montana, a setting that Ford frequently uses in his work.

The work on Canada took Ford twenty years, with the author stating that he took inspiration from several different sources. Ford stated that some of the elements in the book, such as the feeling of “not [being] connected with the larger forces of a culture I was by accident born into”, were drawn from his personal experiences. He also expressed an interest in the aftermath and consequences of crimes such as murder and robberies, and the effect they have on the young family members of the perpetrators, as well as the “closeness to which normal life bears upon felonious life”.

Richard Ford (born February 16, 1944) is an American novelist and short story writer. His best-known works are the novel _The Sportswriter_ and its sequels, _Independence Day_ and _The Lay of the Land_, and the short story collection Rock Springs, which contains several widely anthologized stories.

Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi, the only son of Parker Carrol Ford, a traveling salesman for Faultless Starch, a Kansas City company. When Ford was eight years old, his father had a major heart attack, and thereafter Ford spent as much time with his grandfather, a former prizefighter and hotel owner in Little Rock, Arkansas, as he did with his parents in Mississippi. Ford’s father died of a second heart attack in 1960.

Ford’s grandfather had worked for the railroad. At the age of 19, before deciding to attend college, Ford began work on the Missouri Pacific train line as a locomotive engineer’s assistant, learning the work on the job.

Ford received a B.A. from Michigan State University. Having enrolled to study hotel management, he switched to English. After graduating he taught junior high school in Flint, Michigan, and enlisted in the US Marines but was discharged after contracting hepatitis. At university he met Kristina Hensley, his future wife; the two married in 1968.

Despite mild dyslexia, Ford developed a serious interest in literature. He has stated in interviews that his dyslexia may, in fact, have helped him as a reader, as it forced him to approach books at a slow and thoughtful pace.

Ford briefly attended law school but dropped out and entered the creative writing program at the University of California, Irvine, to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree, which he received in 1970. Ford chose this course simply because, he confesses, “they admitted me. I remember getting the application for Iowa, and thinking they’d never have let me in. I’m sure I was right about that, too. But, typical of me, I didn’t know who was teaching at Irvine. I didn’t know it was important to know such things. I wasn’t the most curious of young men, even though I give myself credit for not letting that deter me.” As it turned out, Oakley Hall and E. L. Doctorow were teaching there, and Ford has been explicit about his debt to them. In 1971, he was selected for a three-year appointment in the University of Michigan Society of Fellows.

Ford published his first novel, _A Piece of My Heart_, the story of two unlikely drifters whose paths cross on an island in the Mississippi River, in 1976, and followed it with The _Ultimate Good Luck_ in 1981. In the interim he briefly taught at Williams College and Princeton. Despite good notices the books sold little, and Ford retired from fiction writing to become a writer for the New York magazine _Inside Sports_. “I realized,” Ford has said, “there was probably a wide gulf between what I could do and what would succeed with readers. I felt that I’d had a chance to write two novels, and neither of them had really created much stir, so maybe I should find real employment, and earn my keep.”[7]
In 1982, the magazine folded, and when _Sports Illustrated_ did not hire Ford, he returned to fiction writing with _The Sportswriter_, a novel about a failed novelist turned sportswriter who undergoes an emotional crisis following the death of his son. The novel became Ford’s “breakout book”, named one of _Time_ magazine’s five best books of 1986 and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Ford followed the success immediately with Rock Springs (1987), a story collection mostly set in Montana that includes some of his most popular stories, adding to his reputation as one of the finest writers of his generation.

Reviewers and literary critics associated the stories in _Rock Springs_ with the aesthetic movement known as dirty realism. This term referred to a group of writers in the 1970s and 1980s that included Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff – two writers with whom Ford was closely acquainted – as well as Ann Beattie, Frederick Barthelme, Larry Brown, and Jayne Anne Phillips, among others. Those applying this label point to Carver’s lower-middle-class subjects or the protagonists Ford portrays in _Rock Springs_. However, many of the characters in the “Frank Bascombe” novels (_The Sportswriter_, _Independence Day_, and _The Lay of the Land_), notably the protagonist himself, enjoy degrees of material affluence and cultural capital not normally associated with the “dirty realist” style.

He published another story collection _A Multitude of Sins_ (2002), followed by _The Lay of the Land_ (2006) which continues (and, according to Ford’s explicit statements made at this time, ends) the Frank Bascombe series. However, in April 2013, Ford read from a new Frank Bascombe story without revealing to the audience whether or not it was part of a longer work. But by 2014, it was confirmed that the story would indeed appear as part of a longer work to be published in November of that year. Titled _Let Me Be Frank With You_, it is a work consisting of four interconnected novellas, all narrated by Frank Bascombe.

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