Celebrated author and Giller Prize-winner David Bergen’s new novel, Out of Mind (Goose Lane), picks up where The Matter with Morris left off. Written from the point of view of Morris’s ex-wife Lucille, Out of Mind is a powerful exploration of memory, desire, and the bonds of family.
David Bergen joins me this week on The Chat.
About Out of Mind, The Manitoban says, "Lucille’s story and character reflect the realities of life, reassuring us that we are not alone in our joy or in our pain. In spite of all she has faced, she is still standing. Her strength and her struggle are so quintessentially human that they act as an important reminder that our vulnerability and our perseverance is not for naught."
Trevor Corkum: Out of Mind is the companion book to your earlier novel The Matter with Morris. This latest offering takes us fifteen years into the future and is told from the perspective of Morris’s ex-wife Lucille. Why did you want to jump back into this story?
David Bergen: When I wrote The Matter with Morris, I had no intention of years later writing about Morris’s former wife, Lucille Black. But then, two years ago, I was casting about for a new story, and a new character (as novelists tend to do), and I thought of Lucille and where she might be. She didn’t have a lot of space in The Matter with Morris—Morris is greedy on the page—and so I leapt ahead and found Lucille in her late fifties and still grieving the loss of her son and trying to make sense of her own place in the world. Her voice is very different than Morris’s. More thoughtful, more reflective, thinking, sometimes overthinking. In the end I wanted to give her a say and let her tell her side of the story.
TC: Among many roles, Lucille is a therapist, constantly analyzing others and yet so deeply protective of her own vulnerability. She rarely lets others in. What was it like imagining her inner life and seeing Morris and the rest of the family from her perspective?
DB: Yes. Analytical. She analyzes others, why not herself? Which is incredibly difficult, simply because it is almost impossible to see the carbuncles on your own back that others so easily recognize. And yes, she doesn’t let others in, or if she does, it is through a tiny space in the door, which gives her the option of slamming that door shut. She works with patients who spill and who are messy, and she sees the disorder in that and doesn’t want to go there herself. Which is a defence of course, but I had to be true to who Lucille is and how she thinks. If you loved Morris as a character (some readers didn’t) then you might not love him as much when you see him through Lucille’s eyes. The same for the daughter, Libby, who is adored by Morris, but is not given as much leash by Lucille—the mother/daughter relationship is more fraught, and full of competition, and though Lucille understands this and tries to negotiate it, she knows the pitfalls.
"If you loved Morris as a character (some readers didn’t) then you might not love him as much when you see him through Lucille’s eyes."
TC: One of the key plot points in the novel is Lucille’s journey to Thailand to try to rescue her adult daughter, Libby, from a charismatic cult leader. Your work often explores the intersection of power and spirituality. Can you talk about what draws you to this theme?
DB: Hmm. I suppose you are correct to include the idea of spirituality, though in this book the spiritual is much more open—Libby is looking for definition and believes she might find it with the group she has discovered in Thailand. Perhaps I see religion as being a sort of cult (the self-help language, the quest for individual salvation, the prophets, the patriarchy) and the situation in Thailand is just another dangerous tendril of creed, where power is wielded by the leader.
TC: In both novels, Libby serves as a scrim onto which Morris and Lucille project their various concerns and fears. In the earlier novel, Libby was a diligent and responsible high-school student. What it was like to imagine her fifteen years later, following this unlikely spiritual journey?
DB: When Libby is eighteen, she has an affair with a university professor who is much older, so even back then she was willing to leap into the unknown. And now, in Thailand, she is back in the arms of someone older. Which means she is repeating herself in some way. True, she is a scrim onto which her parents project their own fears, as she was in the first novel, and perhaps this is her role, to reflect the various failures of her parents. At one point Lucille thinks "that children are unconsciously driven in a direction that is intended to compensate for everything that was left unfulfilled in the lives of their parents."
TC: Lucille also forms an intimate relationship with a younger man, an interesting parallel to Morris’s infatuation with younger women. In the end, Lucille makes a much different choice about her relationship than Morris does. Without giving too much away, did you ever consider another outcome for Lucille in the arena of intimacy?
DB: Lucille with a younger man. Morris with a younger woman. Libby with an older man. The family is certainly consistent! Lucille meets Baptiste, a young French student who is in the city for the year, and they begin to spend time together. Regret can run both ways—what if I had said yes, what if I had said no? Lucille’s mind and heart are divided, and she tends to try to think her way through, which can be hard on the heart. I did try to imagine Lucille making a different choice, and even wrote it that way as an experiment, but it felt false. It wasn’t Lucille. She had to act as she did.
David Bergen is the bestselling author of ten novels and two collections of short stories. In book after book, he has harnessed the written word to illuminate the human condition. Among his most acclaimed works are The Time in Between, winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize; The Matter with Morris, winner of the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award and the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, and a finalist for the Giller Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; The Age of Hope, a national bestseller and a finalist for Canada Reads; and Here the Dark, a finalist for the Giller Prize. David Bergen lives in Winnipeg.
An excerpt from Out of Mind
Did I ever tell you about the time we were chased by the beet-faced man in the red pickup?
And then, not waiting for an answer, she began to talk.
Martin was driving, I was playing front- seat driver. He was sixteen. Just new to the road. At a red light, Martin forgets to put on his left-turn signal and then does so at the last moment. He says, Ooops. There’s a long blast from a horn, and it’s a guy behind us in a red pickup. Martin makes a cautious left turn, and then notices that the pickup has decided to follow us. Right on our bumper. And Martin gets frightened. He picks up speed. I look back. The pickup is still there. The man is florid, and that’s scary. Big temper. His mouth is moving, he’s yelling at us. I tell Martin to pull over and let him pass. And so, Martin does. Pulls over to the curb. But the man doesn’t go around us. He sidles up close right beside us and you can see him screaming. He rolls down his passenger window. I’m afraid now. Martin is cowering, poor boy. And then the beet-faced man throws a whole cup of Tim Hortons coffee at us. We are swamped. The car is. And the man drives away. We sit there for a bit and then we look at each other and we start to laugh. And we laugh so hard I’m going to pee my pants. Martin has tears running down his face, he’s so relieved and so happy. Jesus, he says. Jesus. What a waste of coffee, he says. And for some reason, that makes us laugh even more. That was Martin. He had no spite. No sense of revenge. Which is why I can’t imagine him carrying a rifle. Firing it at someone.
Of course you can’t, Morris said.
And then he asked if Lucille was okay.
Fine. I’m okay. I’m sorry to bother you, Morris.
No, no. I like it.
Bye, Morris, she said. And she let him go.
She was passing through the rolling hills east of Shilo. The trees were bright green and the clear sky almost white. She was floating above the ground, and she began to laugh, and she heard him laughing with her, and she laughed until she hiccupped and began to sob, and then, fearing for her life, she pulled over and stopped on the shoulder until her crying was done.