”The world doesn’t usually think about bank robbers as having children--though plenty must. But the children’s story--which mine and my sister’s is--is ours to weigh and apportion and judge as we see it. Years later in college, I read that the great critic Ruskin wrote that composition is the arrangement of unequal things. Which means it’s for the composer to determine what’s equal to what, and what matters more and what can be set to the side of life’s hurtling passage onward.”What do you do when your parents turn out to be bank robbers?
Dell Parson’s and his twin sister Berner, age fifteen, find themselves orphaned by the federal justice system after their parents make the fateful and unwise decision to rob the Agricultural National Bank in Creekmore, North Dakota. Despite being twins they are very different from one another in appearance and personality. ”Nature doesn’t rhyme her children.”
Before the system can catch up with them and make them wards of the state Berner decides to strike out on her own for California and Dell is spirited away across the border into Canada to live with the brother of a friend of his mother. This is the quick and dirty synopsis of the first half of the book. I struggled with this part of the book and had a near crisis of faith in my veneration of the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Richard Ford.
The second half was vintage Richard Ford. My heart sang. My head buzzed. I inhaled pages and then turned back to inhale them again. I had to go out on my back deck, smile at the sky, and breath a bit of oxygen heavy air to make sure my mind was working at maximum capacity to appreciate the final chapters of this book. VINDICATION!!!
Back in 1986 Vintage Books launched this concept of publishing really cutting edge literature in a trade paperback format. They skipped releasing a hardcover edition of these books and never even considered a mass market paperback. The idea was to eventually eliminate the other publishing formats. It worked and it didn’t work. I was employed at Publisher’s Book Outlet in a mall in Phoenix, Arizona and we sold these books as fast as we could get them back in stock. Richard Ford’s [b:The Sportswriter|40722|The Sportswriter|Richard Ford|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327936345s/40722.jpg|14675], which I read with eyes wide open and an elevated heart rate, was a book that I felt as if I was being spoon fed important life changing information. Richard Russo’s [b:Mohawk|12368|Mohawk|Richard Russo|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320416880s/12368.jpg|1813321] was also part of the series and was another book that gave the reader a good thump to the head. Russo also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002. An editor at Vintage knew what they were doing when they signed these two guys up for this program.
I don’t know if I can be objective about Richard Ford. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him several times. When his book [b:Independence Day|12374|Independence Day|Richard Ford|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1166501473s/12374.jpg|2199385] was released, a follow up to The Sportswriter
, I was waiting with great anticipation for his arrival in San Francisco on tour. My son had other plans. He was born on the day of Ford’s presentation. One of my friends informed Richard Ford about this celebrated moment in my life and he signed and inscribed a book to my son.
The book resides in a bookshelf with a beautiful ornate glass door that had belonged to my grandmother where I keep all the most precious books in my collection.
Ford’s eyes are crisp pale blue that don’t look at you, but look through you. I felt as if I didn’t have to say a word and he could just gaze at me and write my biography. Richard Ford
Now there was a moment in the lives of the twins parents that I wish happened to more married couples more often. Sometimes we all get so crushed by monotony and the marriage has been whittled down to more of a business arrangement than a relationship, but there are these moments when we remember why we signed up for kids, a mortgage, and a soul sucking career. I remember that night, now, as the best, most natural time our family had that summer--or any time. Just for a moment, I saw how life could go forward on a steadier, more reliable course. The two of them were happy and comfortable with each other. My father appreciated the way my mother behaved toward him. He paid her compliments on her clothes and her appearance and her mood. It was as if they’d discovered something that had once been there but had gotten hidden or misunderstood or forgotten over time, and they were charmed by it once more, and by one another. Which seems only right and expectable for married people. They caught a glimpse of the person they fell in love with, and who sustained life.
Sometimes we just hang on to the wrong memories of each other. Saskatchewan Prairie where Dell found himself relocated.
Dell Parsons found himself in Canada living in a stucco house with holes bigger than rats in the walls that necessitated him creatively piling boxes of someone else’s leftover memories against the walls to keep the weather at bay. He was under the guidance of Arthur Remlinger a man long on charisma and haunted by shadowy moods. He was colored by a violent past that chose that six weeks in the life of Dell Parsons to come explosively to light. Dell had to assimilate quickly. I hadn’t been taught to assimilate, a person perhaps assimilated without knowing it. I was doing it now. You did it alone, and not with others or for them. And assimilating possibly wasn’t so hard and risky and didn’t need to be permanent. This state of mind conferred another freedom on me and was like starting life over, or as I’ve already said, becoming someone else--but someone who was not stalled but moving, which was the nature of things in the world. I could like it or hate it, but the world would change around me no matter how I felt.
Remlinger had an assistant named Charley Quarters who claimed to be a member of the Metis tribe. He was assigned to teach Dell to work which mainly involved unskilled labor like digging goose pits for hunters and carrying luggage up to rooms in the hotel. Like Remlinger he was a man with a past and an unhealthy obsession with Hitler, rouge, Stalin, mascara, Mussolini, and lipstick. Needless to say he made Dell uneasy. ”You always think you know the worst thing. But it’s never the very worst thing.” Charley Quarters
Dell while trying to decide a new course for his life discovered a new relationship with time. Possibly being a town boy (in town, time matters so much) and being suddenly set down in an empty place I didn’t know, among people I knew little about, left me more subject to the elemental forces that mimicked the experience I was undergoing and made it more tolerable. Against these forces--an earth rotating, a sun lowering its angle in the sky, winds filling with rain and the geese arriving--time is just a made-up thing, and recedes in importance and should.
I can’t imagine the circumstances that would allow TIME
to loosen the choke hold around my neck. I’m always so conscious of time, even the amount of time that I’m taking to write this review and I’ve TAKEN TOO MUCH
. ”It’s hard going through life without killing someone.” Charley Quarters
Richard Ford is a lyrical writer. You will be exposed to beautiful, sparse prose. If you have not read Richard Ford before I would still recommend reading The Sportswriter
first although in my experience men tend to like that book better than women. It is the book where I feel all his ideas about a self-analysed life coalesce into perfect expression. Others may have liked the first half of this book better than I did, but the second half tugged at my own memories, my own insecurities, and even had me tearing up in a particular scene with his sister. It made me appreciate the decisions that I’ve made that have been mostly right and also respect the fact that one misstep could have landed me in circumstances that are less than ideal. We are in some ways caretakers of the dreams of that 15 year old and that 25 year old and that 35 year old that resides in all of us. I do wonder if I stood before a panel of my past selves would they be mortified or would they shrug and give me a tentative thumbs up.