Parents are never the people we think they are, but in Richard Ford's awe-inspiring new novel, 15-year-old Dell Parsons and his twin sister, Berner, discover that their mother and father are bank robbers—and not particularly formidable ones either. Dad is a fast-talking Southern dreamer; Mom is a Jewish intellectual who married the flyboy who happened to get her pregnant. The two have clumsily executed their crime in an effort to save themselves from another botched scheme (involving stolen beef), and when they're taken in by the Montana police, Dell and Berner are left on their own to survive. Berner runs away to California in search of adventure, but Dell travels with a friend of his mother's to Canada, where he's given refuge by an eccentric inn owner. Here, the real danger begins, but knowing what happens in this book—or not—makes little difference in the reading of it. The laconic, grief-stricken voice of Dell, looking back on his past, trying to make some kind sense of what happened when his family imploded, keeps you turning pages, as do the quiet, thought-provoking revelations that Ford drops in throughout. "Loneliness..." he writes "is like being in a long line, waiting to reach the front where it's promised something good will happen. Only the line never moves..." There's no tidy conclusion to Dell's story, save that he manages to make a life for himself—and therein lies the question of this complex, masterful novel: Why do some of us drown under the weight of our past, while others of us recover? When he moves north to his new home in Saskatchewan, Dell says it was like "becoming someone else—but someone who was not stalling 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."
— By Leigh Newman