Generally, I avoid contemporary novels as lightweight and annoyingly self-conscious, but Richard Ford has changed my perspective. I just read "Canada," his latest book, and am about 10 pages away from finishing "Independence Day," his 1996 novel, which is the middle book of a trilogy starring the same character, Frank Bascombe. Bascombe starts as a sportswriter in the first book of the trilogy, "The Sportswriter," then, after traumatic personal events, takes some time off and transforms himself into a real estate agent. His immersion in the minutia and the psychology of real estate is wonderfully entertaining. The book isn't perfect -- the climactic event, which happens during a trip with his 15-year-old son -- doesn't quite ring true, but any good book will have flaws. Ford's humor is wonderful, and his descriptions of American roads and malls and housing developments and neighborhoods take on a weight of significance -- this is where we live our lives, and it reflects who we are.

"Canada" is different, a well-written but fundamentally flawed book, a book that doesn't convince the reader (at least not this reader) of its essential true-ness, a book that always feels forced. "Canada" is the opposite of many contemporary bestsellers -- books that are poorly written, but whose characters somehow come alive.

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