Walk into a pre-school classroom in America today and Erika Christakis says it’s likely you’ll see some familiar décor: alphabet charts, bar graphs, calendars, and schedules. It’s all part, says the expert in early child education, of a nationwide drive to make sure kids are ready for school at a younger and younger age.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford is best known for his Bascombe trilogy of novels, which center on a middle-aged man from middle America. Ford’s first novel in three years is about a 15-year-old American boy who is taken to Canada taken to start a new life after his parents rob a bank and are sent to prison. Richard Ford joins Diane to discuss what Canada means to him.
- Richard Ford Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the Bascombe trilogy.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpt from “Canada” by Richard Ford. Copyright 2012 by Richard Ford. Reprinted here by permission of Ecco Press. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Richard Ford is best known for a trilogy of novels about the life of an American every man in New Jersey. They include "Independence Day," which was the first book to win both a Pulitzer Prize and the Pen Faulkner Award. His latest book is about crossing borders, physical, psychological and emotional. The protagonist is a 15-year-old boy whose life is upended after his parents rob a bank. The title is "Canada," and Richard Ford joins me in the studio.
MS. DIANE REHMI invite you to be part of the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you. It's good to see you again.
MR. RICHARD FORDGreat to see you, Diane. Thanks.
REHMThank you. From the very beginning, you knew that this book had to be called "Canada." Tell us why.
FORDWell, it's the first thing I wrote, which is always a good sign. You like to stick with a title that seems to you, first, to be the book's title, that is to say if you're me, I like to do that. It seemed to have a kind of the title -- have a kind of plushness for me. It sort of bespoke certain kinds of possibilities. For me, words are often the sort of trigger for something that I will write. (word?) said that when he decided to write a poem, he felt a kicking in his soul.
FORDAnd so for me, when I wrote the word Canada, and I knew I wanted to take the book into Canada, but when I wrote the word Canada on the top of the page like in 1989, it just seemed to have that plushness. It just seemed to make that little kick in my soul.
REHMSo what you're saying is that you could not have set this book in New Jersey.
FORDThat's exactly right. And I like to think that pretty much everything that I write I could set pretty much anywhere else. But if you're gonna call a book "Canada," you better get to Canada, and so you're sort of hemmed in there, but that was fine with me, because it set for me a sort of challenge.
REHMOne reviewer called the first lines of this book shockingly direct. Do you want to read them for us?
REHMBecause they really, really are. Take us through the first two paragraphs of the book.
FORD"First I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed, then about the murders which happened later. The robbery is the most important part since to set my and my sisters' lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first. Our parents were the least likely two people in the world to rob a bank. They weren't strange people, not obviously criminals. No one would have thought they were destined to end up the way they did. They were just regular, although, of course, that kind of thinking became null and void the moment they did rob a bank."
REHMAnd of course, the story begins in Great Falls, Montana.
REHMWhat happens there?
FORDIn Great Falls, Montana, the father of this family gets released from the Air Force and sort of runs immediately into financial trouble and concocts a haywire scheme to sell stolen beef to the railroad and quickly runs afoul of some Indians north of where they lived, and decides because their lives are threatened by these Indians who they say are owed money, he decides to rob a bank. I thought when I wrote that well, it's pretty preposterous to think anybody would rob a bank, but then I thought, anybody who robs a bank does something preposterous because -- or is in the grip of some terrible urgency which is loony in a way because you almost know you're gonna get caught, and of course these people are.
REHMYou know, this guy was disappointed from the start because he wanted to be a pilot. He didn't make it into pilot school, instead became a bombardier.
REHMSo he's disappointed to start. He has a one-night fling with a woman, and she is pregnant, and she is Jewish, and he is not. He's a southern boy.
REHMAnd her family is not happy.
FORDThat's right. That's right. And everything in their life follows upon that misadventure really, and I think you're probably right that, you know, I can't talk about these as though they're people. They're people I made up. I can't talk about them as though they had lives that I didn't give them, but I do think you're probably right that he is a man disappointed in some way who's made mistakes, but then, you know, so do we all make mistakes, and we don't manage to end up in prison for them. His mistakes were large in nature, and his miscalculations were large.
REHMDo you think his wife loved him?
FORDUnquestionably she loved him. I think everybody in this little sodality, two twins, boy and a girl, wife, and father -- wife and husband, they all loved each other. For me, that was the most interesting part of writing this book. They all loved each other, and yet it all went kaflooey.
REHMIt all went kaflooey in such a bad way.
REHMI mean, thinking that the narrator, Dell Parsons, who's a 66-year-old about to retire Canadian school teacher, and I'm not gonna give away the whole plot, but he seems to be the only one able to step back and tell a story.
FORDTherefore he must then tell it, right. Because, I mean, for me, the sort of moral stance of most first-person narrations in which a point in time is the fictive present and the story takes place much before, the moral position for that is, I can tell this because I'm able to. I can tell this because I've survived it. I can tell this because all of its horrors and trepidations I have somehow come to the end of am now able to tell a story.
REHMHis twin sister is six minutes older...
REHM...than he and, therefore, he looks to her as one who makes the decisions who is stronger and yet she reached a point in their adolescence after they had been very, very close growing up.
REHMWhen she turns away from him, he's saddened by that.
FORDYes. Well, she does. She runs away when the parents are put in jail and the kids are left in the house by themselves waiting for who knows what to come and take them away, she just finds it impossible any longer to stay in the house, and so she runs away. She runs away to California into a life which the book tracks to is end actually, runs away to an uncertain future which becomes an uncertain present.
REHMRichard Ford and the book is titled "Canada." He is of course the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Pen Faulkner Prize which he won in the same year for "Independence Day." Do join us 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. When you began composing this novel, did the bank robbery come first?
FORDNo. The bank robbery came, you know, a long by necessity. When I started thinking about this book was in 1989, and all I had in my brain at that time was that I wanted to write a novel about a kid who gets abandoned by his parents who then is trust across the border into Saskatchewan. Then 20 years intervened, and I did other things, wrote those books you mentioned, and when I came around to thinking about "Canada" again, about four years ago, I thought well, what would happen?
FORDWhat could happen that would cause a couple of parents to have to abandoned their children, and I thought well, they could rob a bank. And so then I thought, ooh, I'd like to write about robbing a bank, that would be good. I had sort of a fair amount of larceny in my young life, and so I thought that -- I get to do that without going to jail for it.
REHMWhat kind of larceny did you have?
FORDOh, well, Diane, just the odd car went missing, you know.
REHMThe odd car went missing?
FORDBut it -- yeah. Well, yeah. You know, it was just feckless for...
REHMBut you didn't go to jail for that?
FORDI went close.
FORDThe guy I did it with did go to jail, yeah.
FORDYeah. You know, and the sad and pathetic part about it was, is that we didn't need to do that. We didn't need to do what we did. We were just feckless, suburban kids in Mississippi who didn't have enough on our minds.
REHMBut this is a grown up couple...
REHM...and in fact, the father wants to take Dell with him in the car...
REHM...to rob the bank. We don't find that out until a little later, but the mother says absolutely not.
REHMYou are not taking my son.
FORDFather-son bonding, that would have been -- but...
REHMBonking in bank robbing.
FORDBut as a consequence, she puts herself into the car with her husband to go rob this bank in North Dakota.
REHMDo you think she did that out of love, or a sense of wanting to protect her son?
REHMWell, the happy thing about writing novels is that we could have all of those things at once. You know, conventional wisdom, which novels are basically poised against. But conventional wisdom would say she did it for one of those reasons, that she did it because she wanted to protect her son, or she did it for this reason. But in a novel, you can actually posit that she did it for a whole lot of reasons which is probably mostly true.
REHMRichard Ford, whose new novel, "Canada." He is of course a Pulitzer Prize winning author. He wrote the trilogy "The Sportswriter," "Independence Day" and "The Lay of the Land." We'll be right back.
REHMAnd here's our first email for Richard Ford whose latest book is titled, "Canada." This from Leslie in Bethesda: "Richard Ford is one of my favorite novelist for over 25 years. How does he write so well of things so unfamiliar to him -- children, divorce, real estate sales? How does he research lives like Frank Bascombe?"
FORDWell, you're right. I guess that's the job description, for one thing. Thoreau said that a writer was a man who, having nothing to do, finds something to do. And so I think I'm just naturally idle of brain, not surprising, and can take notional interest in all kinds of things. I thought I do like other people and I sort of like the ways in which other people make a living. I grew up in a family where my father went to work every day and what he did was always so fascinating to me.
FORDSo the way in which people make a living is, for me, one of the ways that they become plausible. So it's not very far from that to writing characters who you want to make plausible.
REHMAnd of course, you grew up very nearby one of my all-time favorite writers in the world Eudora Welty.
FORDI did, down the street actually. Yeah, I did. Every -- from my house I could look to it downtown and I could see the building that her father worked in. And I grew up across the street from the house where she had been born. And she and I went to the same grade school. We had the same teachers. She was 35 years older than I was and we once went to an event at the school. And this very aged lady showed up at the school and she was Eudora's teacher and she had been my teacher.
REHMOh, isn't that wonderful.
FORDMaybe only in Mississippi.
REHMAnd here's an email from Tom: "Your new novel, 'Canada,' has been described as a novel about boundaries. Skimming through the first few pages, I noticed a pattern of boundaries emerging, personal, social, individual, communal and peripheral central. I'm curious about how this set-up may play into the original germination of the novel and how it might influence the way in which you approach fiction generally."
FORDMy goodness gracious. I think in the most simple-minded way, I just thought -- which is the way novels start for me, simple-mindedly, about a kid going across the border. And that the word border became for me one of those words that I mentioned earlier that had some plushness to it. That, for me, had what Katherine Anne Porter calls a commotion around it. And I thought, gee, border, crossing over a border, don't we all do that?
FORDIsn't that kind of a trope for a lot of ways in which we try to negotiate our lives? And the book is about people who cross borders of the kind that the gentleman just described and then can't get back over again. And for me, that was a very poignant human event when you suddenly look over your shoulder and you see where you were, but you can't get there anymore.
REHMAnd he ends this by saying, "perhaps you could talk about the idea of how fact and truth work as a boundary that you might be exploring here in 'Canada.' The fact being that the narrator's parents robbed a bank, truth being that they were what you called just regular people."
FORDWell that interests me a lot. But it interests in the very way that I was just describing because conventional wisdom says to us that people who rob banks are sociopaths, they're criminals, they're felons, they're the bad people. And sometimes that's in the case of people like Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. That turns out to be true. And these people are actually figuring this book to some extent.
FORDBut, for me, the most interesting thing about people who commit crimes is how they have just taken that one extra step away from normal life, and then suddenly, as we said before, everything goes kaflooey and you can't get back. It's a line of Henry James and he said that there are no themes that are so human as those that reflect the connection between bliss and bail, between the things that help and the things that hurt.
FORDThat, for me, was sort of major sort of guide in this book. You think about the two faces of drama. One looking one way, grimacing, one looking the other way smiling or laughing and they are parts of the same face.
REHMRead for us from page 75 and this is just before everything changes.
FORD"I will say this about our father. All during that night when we were a family, laughing, joking, eating, ignoring what was hanging over us, his features had changed again. When he'd left home two days before, he'd looked fleshy and exhausted. His features have been lose and indistinct and washed out as if his every step was reluctant and unpracticed. But when he came back that night and strode around the house, declaring on what interested him, satellites, South American politics, organ transplants, how all our lives could be better, his features look sharpened and chiseled.
FORDIn the grainy light above our supper table, he'd become intent and precise-looking. Our father had small hazel eyes, light brown disks you wouldn't pay attention to. They would have seemed weak eyes because he squinted when he smiled. And since his face was big-boned, his eyes were often lost in the overall effect. However, at our dinner table, his face now seemed to be about his eyes.
FORDAs if they saw a world they hadn't before, they gleamed. When he looked at me with those eyes, I, at first, felt good and positive. But eventually, I became uncomfortable. It was as if he was reappraising everything as when he'd roamed around the rooms in our house two hours before and seem to be seeing them for the first time and was taking a new interest in them. And it made the house feel foreign to me, as if he was planning a use for it that it hadn't had.
FORDHis eyes made me feel the same way. During all these years, I've thought about his eyes and how they became so different. And since so much was about to change because of him, I thought possibly that a long-suppressed potential in him had suddenly worked itself into visibility on its face. He was becoming who and what he was always supposed to be. He'd simply had to wear down through the other layers to who he really was.
FORDI've seen this phenomenon in the faces of other men, homeless men, men sprawled on the pavement in front of bars, in public parks or busty posts or lined up outside the doors of missions, waiting to get in out of a long winter. In their faces, plenty of them were handsome but ruined. I've seen the remnants of who they almost succeeded in being but failed to be before becoming themselves.
FORDIt's a theory of destiny in character I don't like or want to believe in, but it's there in me like a hard under story. I don't, in fact, every see such a ruined man without saying silently to myself, that's my father. My father is that man. I used to know him."
REHMRichard Ford reading from his new novel, "Canada." 800-433-8850. Do you think that the Parsons, this family, are they a normal, regular family in your eyes?
FORDWell, yes, I think they are. If you will agree that a normal, regular family can self-destruct. And we all know that normal, regular families self-destruct all the time. I guess -- and I know I keep returning to this notion, conventional wisdom tells us that people are separable in that way, that they are either good or bad. They're either solid or insubstantial. But for me, the interesting thing is how one thing becomes another.
FORDHow a regular family becomes unworkable. And ultimately, through the course of this book, how the outcome of this family's becoming crazed and dissolute eventuates in the life, which my narrator leads, which is actually successful and good life.
REHMIt is a good life. It's a simple life. It's a straightforward life. And he seems to live it in a way that his mother would have liked.
FORDI think that's exactly right. I think that that's the life she would have had for him. He's an English teacher in a high school in Windsor, Ontario. He becomes Canadian in this book, which is finally why the book persists in being called "Canada."
REHMDid you spend a great deal of time in Canada?
FORDI have, for an American who's never lived there. I spend as much time as I could have. I've lived a lot of my adult life very close to Canada and always was happy to go there. I always felt like it was an awfully good country. There's a certain -- particularly living in north central Montana and in Mississippi, too. There's a certain exigence about living in America. America is just at you all the time in one way or another.
FORDIt's either our crazy politics or something else. But there's just -- something's banging on you all the time. And for me -- and I don't want to say that this is true of Canada, but it's true of my experience of going there. When I go there, I feel a sense of refuge for myself. And maybe it's just to get away from your own place, your own exigencies. But, for me, that was probably one of the reasons, one of the sensations I felt that I wanted to find language for, a sense of a place being a refuge for someone.
REHMWell, and of course, it was a refuge for so many...
REHM...during the Vietnam War.
FORDThis teacher, my narrator's kids asked him, did you come to Canada in the '60s to run away from the war? And he said no. Of course, he denied.
REHMWhat about the names of the characters? Some of them have fairly unusual names they've selected for themselves.
FORDYes. Well, my character, who is the twin sister of the narrator, his name is Verner. I don't know where that came from. Or where do these things come from, God only knows. It just seemed like the write word. You know, a lot of times you call characters what you call them because you want to see that on the page over and over again. And because it has a certain attraction for you and you want to see what you can make happen around that word. Later on, she comes to the end of the novel and her father, whose name is Bev, goes out of her life.
FORDWe don't know where he is at the end of the end of the book and she takes his name. She calls herself Bev, because she said she never liked her own name very much. And she takes his name because she felt he hadn't done enough with it. So, you spend long enough in a novel, you finally actually invent some interesting things for yourself.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." It's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Let's go first to Boca Raton, FL. Good morning, Tim. You're on the air.
TIMHey, Diane. Good morning. Thanks for taking my call.
TIMGood morning, Richard.
FORDGood morning, Tim.
TIMThanks for taking my call, too. I've enjoyed your work for a long, long time. "The Sportswriter," it really changed something in me. I'm a writer myself and I have yet to be published. And I think I'd be writing this manifesto for about 500 years.
FORDSometimes they take that long.
TIMYeah. I wanted to ask you something, Richard. I know we've all hit our walls at different times. And all our walls probably look a little bit different. But as a writer, when you hit yours, is there a particular thing that you do or something that comes over you that keeps you writing?
FORDFear of failure, probably the strongest things. It keeps me going at it. And...
REHMFear of failure even after receiving the Pulitzer and the PEN/Faulkner in the same year?
FORDWell, I guess I'm ready to say that winning those prizes does not cure you of fear of failure.
FORDSo, that, I think, Tim, is one thing. Also, the feeling that I'm -- having spent 40 years being a writer -- I'm doing what Chekhov got to do, for goodness sakes. I've dedicated my life to something larger than I am and it seems worth not just quitting because you hit that wall. But those are probably the biggest reasons. I think I -- I don't think it's bad for writers to have high aspirations.
FORDI don't think it's bad for writers to think that they're doing or trying to do something great. And when you are trying to do something great, you're trying to write about the most important things you know, well, that keeps you at it or it should.
REHMDo you think that for a writer to hit the wall is different from any other professional when he or she hits a wall?
FORDIt may be simply because when other people hit the wall, physicians or airline pilots or neurosurgeons, they have either people telling them that they've hit the wall and they're not going to let them go back and try it again sometimes. Or if you are a musician and you hit the wall, you have other people to play with and they can actually help you to get beyond that impasse. For me, I have myself and I have my wife. That's who I go to when I hit a wall.
FORDAnd I have a friend or two. But by and large, it's something I just experience by myself. And I'm not complaining about that, because when you succeed in getting beyond it, you feel, you know, you feel like you're supposed to feel when you're a writer, that you've imagined your way out of something.
REHMWhen you say you have a friend or two, are friends distracting to you?
FORDNo. Goodness, no. Christina and I live in Maine, and so I don't have many writer friends who are really so close by that I could call on. And also, at a certain pass in your age, I'm 68, nobody has time to help you. Everybody's doing what she or he is doing. And to go to somebody and say, you know, I've got this problem. I need a little bit of your time, is asking an awful. And it's also asking somebody often to tell you what they don't want to tell you, which is that they don't think you've done something very well.
FORDAnd that's placing a huge burden on people. So you're pretty much going to have to figure it out for yourself.
REHMAnd what does your wife do?
FORDMy wife, Christina Ford, who has been on this show with you.
FORDShe's one of the great urban planners in America and she's about to start teaching at Columbia at the School for International and Public Affairs.
REHMAnd what's that going to mean for you and your life in Maine?
FORDIt's going to mean some time spent in New York City, yeah.
REHMWill that be good?
FORDI hope so. You never know, you know. You hope so. I mean, she'll be there. I'll be there, so that will be great.
REHMRichard Ford, he's the bestselling author of seven novels, including "Independence Day," the first book to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. His newest novel is titled "Canada." Short break and right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Author Richard Ford is with me. His newest novel is titled, "Canada." And here is an email that really is going to take you down to the depth. It's from Hal in Edmond, Okla., "Please ask your guest what it felt like to learn he had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. I've always dreamed of such a fabulous event and he knows what it was like to actually receive the Pulitzer."
FORDWell, I'd never dreamed of such an event. I just didn't feel like I was the guy who won prizes. I was really satisfied to be able to be a novelist and writing the books that I was writing. And, I mean, I wouldn't want to say let other people win prizes. I didn't care. It would have been nice, but I never really thought about it. I'm superstitious enough to think never wish for things. Just be -- just do what you do. I was in France and a telephone call came to a table where I was. I was with Ernie Gaines and...
REHMErnest Gaines who wrote that wonderful, wonderful book about the killing...
FORDYes, now you would ask me that.
FORDNo, it was somebody else. That's all right.
REHMYeah, it was somebody else.
FORDBut anyway it kind of took me away...
FORDWell, that's terrible. But anyway, great guy, Ernie Gaines, and somebody made a call to the table and said -- handed me a cell phone and said the call's for you. And I said, ha, ha, very funny. The call's for me. I'm sorry, no calls are coming for me. So, I just went out in the hall and my editor from France said, you want a big surprise?
FORDSo it was -- I mean, it was very nice.
REHMDid you have a glass of champagne?
FORDI did. I did do that.
REHMAnd the book we've been talking about of Ernest Gaines is titled, "A Lesson Before Dying." Just gorgeous.
FORDYeah, it's about a man on death row in Louisiana, yeah.
REHMAnd how marvelous that you were with him.
FORDIt was marvelous. I'll have to say that after I found that out, I came back to the table and didn't tell anybody because I thought...
REHMYou didn't even tell him?
FORDNo. I thought it would -- I thought we were having a great evening. He's a wonderful man.
FORDHe's my colleague. I didn't want to shanghai the evening and have it be all about what happened to me.
FORDAnd I think it's just, you know, my mama raised me right, I guess.
REHMHere's an email from Charles who says, "I'm a big fan. I appreciate your reading of "Reunion," by Cheever. Can you speak to the weight or change that happens when you read your work aloud? Also, have you thought about narrating your own books on tape?"
FORDThe Cheever story which I hope all of your listeners will read, not listen to me necessarily read it on the New Yorker blog. But the Cheever story is a wonderful story called, "Reunion." It takes about 1,200 words to change your life in a sense. I've read that book -- that story lots of times. When it comes to reading my own work aloud, which I do at the -- just before I finish a book. I read the whole book to Christina and it takes a month. And there are good things that come from that and bad things that come from it.
FORDI mean, I'm dyslexic so I have to read it aloud to be sure that all the words are in the right place and that they're all the right words. The liability to it is that you will sometimes -- or that I will sometimes reduce a word -- rather a sentence -- to something slightly less complex than it needs to be. I expect readers who read books of mine to read them silently to themselves and their mind can put up with complex syntax.
FORDBut when I submit everything to my own spoken voice, sometimes I think I simplify them in ways that perhaps I don't need to do. So that when I come to a complex passage, I look at it really hard and think to myself, am I going to do harm to this passage if I bring it down to just what I can say aloud?
REHMTell me about your dyslexia. Have you had that all your life?
FORDYeah, I have, but mildly, mildly dyslexic. I'm not...
REHMYou knew it.
FORDI didn't know it until I was in my 30's, actually. Nobody was around in Mississippi to diagnose me. I had -- but I had all the classic symptoms.
FORDVery slow reader requiring a lot of concentration to comprehend. When I'm tired, I reverse letters. I can look at a page of type and not see words that are there, irrespective of how many minutes I spend looking at it. It's just the classic stuff.
REHMAre you good at listening to lectures?
FORDYes. I am good at listening to lectures.
FORDBecause I know that I have to concentrate and try to close out all other stimulus in order to get it into my brain, so to say. So I pay a lot of attention. I'm generally a pretty good listener, but I think I work at being a good listener. One of the things I'm not good at, I'm a pretty good French speaker, but I have to work at listening to French when it's spoken to me because they -- I mean, French people typically speak quite fast. And I just get lost in sentences because I have to sort of ploddingly listen along, which I'm used to being able to do in English and understand.
REHMLet's go to Thompson, Conn. Good morning, John.
JOHNHow are you?
REHMFine, thanks. Go right ahead, sir.
JOHNFirst of all, I'm really, really enjoying the show today. Thank you very much. And I just had a quick question, comment for Richard. I really love the passage he read there at the beginning of the show. And it was really reminded me of the Patrick Cavanaugh poem in memory of my father. And I just wanted to know if he's aware of it. If that was an inspiration for that particular notion and, you know, just talk about that. I'll take my comments off the air. Thank you very much.
REHMThank you for calling.
FORDNo, it wasn't, but I've lived in Cavanaugh's neighborhood in Dublin before. One knows Cavanaugh quite well. And so I've read all of Cavanaugh's poems. Everything you read, you know, whether it's specifically paying into what you are writing always contributes. You know, I'm not the first to say that. You don't trace things back necessarily directly to something, but all good writing that you read encourages you. All good writing that you read opens a little fissure into conventional life that never fully closes for you after you've read it. And I mean I can think about a poem like -- of Cavanaugh's called, "Canal Bank." I lived right by that canal. And I'll never see the world the same for having read "Canal Bank," by Patrick Cavanaugh.
REHMHow do you think that ordinary people like Dell's parents acclimate themselves to prison life?
FORDWell, highly individualistically. In my book, Dell's mother takes her life. She did not acclimate herself satisfactorily to prison life at all. And Dell's father, who is a man who can, in fact, by closing out enough of reality, acclimate himself satisfactorily to all kinds of exigent situations. But the book actually doesn't trace him to his life to its end or to the book's end. So when you get to the end of "Canada," Verner and Dell are speculating about where their father is. Is he alive? He'd be quite old. He'd be in his 90's by then, but people live that old.
REHMWould he have gotten out of prison?
FORDYeah, absolutely. Absolutely, I mean, if he lived, he would have gotten out of prison.
REHMHow long were the sentences that the two received for robbing a bank?
FORDIt's not specific in the book, but in my notion, it was 20 years.
REHMThat's a lot of time.
FORDIt's a lot of time, but they were, at the time, in their late 30's. It's not unreasonable to think that a person could live that long and...
REHMWhat a silly thing to have him do, go into that bank with a gun. He gets finally $2,500. He owes $2,000. He thought he was going to have an awful lot more than that. Why couldn't you be more generous with him?
FORDBecause I wanted to write a passage about somebody robbing a bank. I think that was me living the life I didn't live, I suppose. That was the vicarious part. Though, you know, again, as I said before, I think anytime anybody decides to rob a bank, except a hardened criminal, it's a flight of fancy. It's a flight of lunacy to do that. Everybody's going to see you. People are going to remember you. The police are going to come get you almost immediately, particularly if you are inept as these two people are inept.
FORDSo to me, frankly, it was irresistible to do that, to have an opportunity to actually work my way through what it would -- what would have to happen for two regular human beings who loved each other to decide that they're going to do that.
REHMBut not to think through what might happen to their children.
FORDThat's right. Well, they thought through enough to think that -- I mean to think that everything would work out fine because the mother and the father wanted, in fact, to get divorced. And they just thought well, this is -- you know, they're in that little tiny way -- I hate to use the N word, but they're narcissists, you know. They were only thinking about what's right in front of them and what they needed to do.
REHMLet's go to Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Ann.
ANNGood morning, Diane. Thank you so much for taking my call.
ANNMy question is -- and I look forward to reading "Canada" so very much.
ANNOh, I cannot wait. There are women -- and I'm including myself. There a lot of women in their 50s, they're Baby Boomers. They're recently divorced. They did not have good role models. They were abandoned in their childhood, but they lived a middle class life. And now they could go either direction and they don't know how to choose. Are there organizations through your research and your writing where someone like me could turn? Because I understand about it's difficult to ask someone, you know, can you help me. I'm looking for wisdom so that's why I'm asking if you've encountered or thought about organizations where women can turn to turn their lives around.
FORDWell, I don't think I have any new news on that score. I mean, depending on where you live, of course, that's going to be consequential in what you can choose. I mean, I'm not a person of faith, okay, but people have faith and there are all kinds of places you can go for that. You can go to church or you can go to the other church, which is the university and go there. It doesn't sound like what you're saying is a crisis. It sounds like something that is more discretionary in your life or you wouldn't be calling in talking about quite as calmly as you are.
FORDI would say that the obvious places for you are right in front of you. The other place, of course, is your family. I mean, for me, if I thought I was at a crossroads, if I thought I was someplace where I didn't know how to proceed, I would go to someone who loved me.
REHMThat's the most obvious place to go. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Oklahoma City, Okla., good morning, Jason.
JASONHi, Diane, thank you for taking my call.
REHMYou're most welcome.
JASONI love listening to your show. I sit in my car and listen to your show for hours at a time when I can.
REHMThank you. Thank you.
JASONI just would like to make a comment. When I heard the author said he was dyslexic, my heart jumped a beat. I'm 27 and I'm diagnosed severe dyslexia, but just the honesty and the courage and to hear him say he was dyslexic just touched a chord. And it makes me want to go and pick up his book and read it, as much as I know how hard and how long it's going to take me to read it. I'm very excited to read it and I am going to try my best. Thank you very much. I'll take everything off the air.
REHMThank you, sir.
FORDYeah, let me just say this about dyslexia. For me, and, again, I will say I'm mildly dyslexic. It sort of played into the impulse to be a writer because to be a writer, there's never any reason to hurry because words get into my brain in a kind of unpredictable way. Writing and reading became something I loved to do because there are all kinds of qualities in language which are non-cognitive, which is to say how many syllables they have.
FORDWhether there's a glottal in the middle of it, whether there's a fricative at the beginning. I mean, all the syncopation in language becomes available to you when you read it slowly. That's the way I write books. That's the way I ideally would like people to read books of mine, as you were saying, Jason, slowly.
REHMAnd here's our final email from Barbara in Ellicott City, Md. She says she had the pleasure of hearing you on a panel at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2011. She's wondering what you have to say about your experiences there and whether India provided a context that we might look forward to seeing in a future novel.
FORDWell, you never know. India is a place I'd never been. I went when I was 65. India is a place that one never forgets. Of course, it couldn't be any more different from the coast of Maine as Mars is from Saturn.
REHMDid you go with Christina?
FORDI did. We went to Jaipur. Anytime any place for a novelist makes that kind of firm impression on you, you know that it's going to circulate back into what you write some way or other in some unpredictable way. One of the nice things about writing novels is the way things that you didn't even think were grist for your mill come around to you unpredictably. We had a wonderful time. I would go back. The best I can say.
FORDOh, yeah, sure. To India anytime anybody wants me to.
REHMTo spend time?
FORDWell, I don't know. Talk about an exigent place. If you spend time there and you're an American, you're probably going to spend time at a higher socioeconomic echelon than most people who live there live. And it's going to set you apart from maybe a lot of things that you would like not to be set apart from.
REHMRichard Ford, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. His new novel is titled, "Canada." And it is beautiful.
FORDThank you, Diane.
REHMThank you so much for being here. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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