The opening lines are already famous, and they lure us in with the promise that what follows will be just as good. “First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.”
His parents "...were regular people tricked by circumstance and bad instincts, along with bad luck, to venture outside of boundaries they knew to be right, and then found themselves unable to go back.”
His rhythm and his voice are remarkably consistent through the book. “Our family came to a stop in Great Falls, Montana, in 1956, the way many military families came to where they came to following the war.”
The cadence carries you along, like a slow-moving boat bobbing along but nonetheless headed steadfastly in one direction.
Part One is as promised, the story of his parents and the robbery, told from the perspective of the 15 year old son Dell. This is the strongest and most memorable part of the book. It's not just Dell who is coming of age, but in some ways his parents too. Dell says about his father, “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’ve thought possibly that a long-suppressed potential in him had suddenly worked itself into visibility on his 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.”
The tensions builds slowly to the robbery.“Things you did. Things you never did. Things you dreamed. After a long time they run together.”
He describes his parents heading to the robbery. They are still regular people, they haven't yet actually gone down that branch of the fork in the road they are approaching. “…It’s the edging closer to the point of no return that’s fascinating: all along the trip, chatting, sharing confidences, exchanging endearments — since their life was officially still intact.”
Ford compares this to drifting on a raft, or up in a balloon. “You notice it, or you don’t notice it. But you’re already too far away, and all is lost.”
It’s a slow-mo telling. Slow-mo, freeze while he digresses, more slow-mo. But still inexorably heading towards those robberies.“Lacking an awareness of consequence might’ve been their greatest flaw.”
In Part 2 Dell is borne to Canada. “…you crossed borders to escape things and possibly to hide, and Canada in his view was a good place for that. But it also meant you became someone different in the process — which was happening to me, and I needed to accept it.”
He struggles to regain equilibrium and a new perspective, difficult for a teenager who really hasn't even yet lived enough to develop those in the first instance. But he does start to figure some things out. “Things happen when people are not where they belong, and the world moves forward and back by that principle.”
Occasionally he casually drops in a phrase that blends in so easily with its neighbours that you delay recognising its significance. It is said as if he knew the reader already knew that particular fragment, so there’s no point embellishing it or dwelling on it. 'There it is, as you know, and so of course this follows.' Except we didn’t know. At first reading I briefly wonder “did I miss that information the first time he told me?” But of course not, he has been quite careful not to tell us. The actual information flow is precisely calibrated. And so the story unfolds. He opens the doors to the future and to the murders with these casual lines.
A 4 for the story, but a 5 for style and the wonderful voice.