About the Author

David Bergen

DAVID BERGEN is an award-winning author of seven previous novels and a collection of short stories. A Year Of Lesser was a New York Times Notable Book, and The Case of Lena S. was a finalist for the Governor General's Award for Fiction. In 2005, Bergen won the Giller Prize for The Time in Between. His sixth novel, The Matter With Morris, was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in 2010, won the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award and the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, and was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The Age Of Hope was a #1 bestseller and a finalist for Canada Reads 2013. Bergen lives with his family in Winnipeg.

Books by this Author
A Year Of Lesser

A Year Of Lesser

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tagged : literary
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David Bergen Two-Book Bundle

The Matter with Morris and The Age of Hope
edition:eBook
tagged : literary
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Here the Dark
Excerpt

April in Snow Lake

1.

The summer I turned nineteen my girlfriend went to Italy to work as a cook for a crew that was rebuilding houses in the aftermath of the earthquake in Udine Province. She wrote me long letters on thin sheets of paper. The letters arrived two weeks after she wrote them and as I read her words I was aware that what I was reading had already passed, she had moved on to some new experience, and so I felt as if I was following her from some great distance, catching a brief glimpse of her, only to have her disappear into a future that I would hear about fourteen days later. She had met a wonderful group of people from Belgium and Holland and France. There was Paul, who was six and half feet tall and played the banjo and admired Woody Guthrie. He wore a bandana. And there was Lillian, who was German Swiss, and was teaching her French. Lillian had taken her to Venice one Sunday, on their day off, and they had stayed overnight in a tiny villa. They had shared a bed and woken in the morning and made coffee on a hotplate and then had leaned out the window of their room and watched the lovers pass by below. It is all so romantic, she wrote. When I read this I was forlorn and I wondered how I would last the rest of the summer without her. I had found a job driving a truck for the local feed company, a job that required a lot of sitting and waiting, usually in the lot of an abattoir where I had been sent to pick up several tons of meat meal. Every evening I showered and scrubbed myself in order to remove the smell of dead animals from my hair and skin.

A year earlier I had decided to become a novelist, or a writer of short stories, or a poet, though I did not truly understand poetry and was more attached to narrative crescendo. I would write in a frenzy over the weekend and show my stories to my girlfriend on Monday evening. Of course we talked about my lack of life experience and my lack of voice and my lack of worldliness. She thought that my religious background, my faith in God, how I saw the world, would be a detriment to my writing. She said that Ernest Hemingway’s father had been religious like my father was, but that Hemingway had managed quite nicely to walk away from all the baggage. I said that I had no desire to walk away. There was room for grace as well as sin in the world of novels.

One morning, before I left for work, my girlfriend telephoned from Italy. At first I didn’t know it was her because I had not expected the call, and then when I finally recognized her voice I told her that I missed her horribly and I couldn’t wait for her to come home. She said that that she knew that but she planned to travel after finishing at the work camp. She might visit Lillian in Basel and then hitchhike up to Amsterdam where Paul lived. I’ll be home at the end of the summer, she said. Then we’ll get married.

This had been our plan, to marry in the fall. It had been my idea, my wish. She would just as happily have moved in together, but I had convinced her that we should marry. She agreed. But first, she said, she wanted to spend time traveling. She was quite willing for me to join her but the offer felt too easy. She knew that I could not afford it.

Her voice on the line faded in and out, and there was a delay, so that our conversation overlapped. At times we were speaking simultaneously and then we had to repeat ourselves and this led to long silences while we waited for the other to speak, and then it started all over again. Finally I just let her talk and as I did so I was aware of the tremendous physical distance between us and that her heart seemed smaller. And then the line went dead. I sat beside the phone for half an hour but she never called back.

That week a letter arrived in which she informed me that she wasn’t sure anymore if we should get married, in fact she wasn’t clear about her love for me. She claimed that the world was a big place and that she had one life and was she ready to spend that life with me? She wasn’t sure. I knew, as I read the letter, that the words had been written before her phone call, and this fact made our conversation irrelevant. She had been talking to me on the phone, promising that she missed me, and that she would return in the autumn and we would marry, while all along she knew that this wasn’t true. The space, the geographical distance, and the gap between what she wrote and what took place after she wrote it, all of this depressed me. Why had she not told me the truth? What was she afraid of? Was there something about me that she feared?

2.

Two weeks later I quit my job driving truck at the feed mill and I rode a bus five hundred miles north to Snow Lake where I worked construction for an old friend of my father who was pouring basements. The crew worked long hours, getting up at five in the morning and working till nine or ten in the evening. The summer nights were short and the light was forever blue and then white and then briefly yellow, and again blue. We did not sleep much and this did not seem to matter. Because darkness barely existed it felt as if sleep was something that other people might require. Not us. Perhaps it was a madness to behave this way, and perhaps this is why the summer lacked a moral focus. The lack of sleep, the wild dreams when I finally did sleep, the anguished poetry I wrote to my girlfriend, my predilection for feverish musings, an inclination to save the world from sin—all of this might have been the result of a lack of sleep.

I was not a drinker, and at nights, when the men were finally free, they went to the local bar while I stayed in my motel room, or sat out on a chair on a rock and read John Steinbeck. And the Bible. The other men on the crew, mostly older than me, kept trying to drag me down to the bar for some pussy. This was their way of putting it. I told them that I was engaged to be married in the fall. Shit, they said, that’s exactly why you need to get laid. I smiled and humored them and shook my head. They went off to get drunk and find a woman, or at least to imagine that possibility, and I read. They had taken to calling me Preacher, because I had let them know that I was a Christian. That fact amused them.

On Sundays, our day off, I was lonely and so I wandered through the town. I noticed that the children on the streets and in the yards were aimless and, my nature being inclined towards industry, I decided to organize a Sunday Day Camp for youth. The ages would be 14 to 17. I didn’t want any small children. I planned to do some hiking and orienteering and I planned to tell these kids stories that were mature and I planned to save their souls. I knew that a sixteen-year-old was able to think along the lines of metaphor more easily. At the local hardware store I purchased several compasses, a filleting knife, a hatchet, and two fishing rods. I canvassed the town, knocked on doors, and asked if there were teenagers living there who might be interested in joining my Day Camp. We would meet under the shelter at the town park. Some folks said no and closed the door, others were willing to listen, and one older woman who had no children asked me in and brewed tea and we sat in her dark living room and listened to the clock tick on the mantle as she cautioned me against presumption.

The first Sunday, three kids appeared. Two sisters, Beverly and April, and a boy named Rodney. I told them a little about myself—I was nineteen, I came from a small town in the south, I liked to read, I wrote poetry and songs, and I believed in God. I asked them to tell about their lives. They looked at each other and giggled. Finally April said that she was there because her younger sister Beverly wanted to come. She shrugged. April had long dark hair that she wore in a single braid and, unlike the other two, she looked right at me when she spoke. She was seventeen. I found her very attractive and so I concentrated on Beverly and Rodney, sneaking looks at April when I thought she didn’t notice.

That afternoon I taught them how to build a lean to, and how to use the compasses, and we caught two fish and filleted them by the lake. These were all things that my father, who considered himself a bit of an outdoorsman, had taught me. We built a fire using the log cabin method and we fried the fish and ate it with our hands, right from the frying pan. Later, I played a few songs and I sang and then I told them the story of how I had become a Christian. I had asked Jesus into my heart. Everyone needs to do that, I said. Would you like to do that? I asked. They looked at me and then April said, Maybe. Someday.

That’s good, I said. Really good.

That night I went to bed imagining that I might fall in love with April, or if not that, we would walk in the park at the edge of town and hold hands. At that time in my life I was full of ego and pride and I could not imagine April liking anyone more than me, in fact I thought that if I were to be with her, I would be the gentlest and kindest person she had ever known. These were similar to the thoughts I used to have about my girlfriend who was in Udine.

I had not heard from her since the last letter, and though I had asked my parents to forward my mail, no letter had arrived. I believed at the time that she would come to regret her decision.

#

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See The Child

See The Child

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary
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Stranger

Stranger

A Novel
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The Retreat

The Retreat

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tagged : literary
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Excerpt

In 1964, at the age of ten, Nelson Seymour was taken from his grandmother’s house on the reserve near Kenora and placed with a Mennonite family in a small town called Lesser, south of Winnipeg. A white man and a white woman came to the reserve in a blue Ford Galaxy looking for two brothers, Raymond and Nelson, but Nelson was the only one home with his grandmother at the time. He was taken immediately. His grandmother tried to stop them but her pleas were ineffectual. The man was wearing a fedora and he took it off and held it at his hip and he said, “Where is the other boy, Raymond?” The grandmother looked at the floor. Then she lied and said that he was away, up north with his father. The man in the fedora looked around at the bicycles in the yard and the old swing. It was autumn and the leaves were gone from the trees and the wind was sharp and cold. The man looked down at a piece of paper that he held in his hand. “It says here that Raymond Seymour has been attending school. How is that?”

The grandmother turned her gaze to the sky and shrugged and said that the school people were wrong. The man looked at Nelson. “Your brother, Raymond, where is he?”

Nelson glanced at his grandmother, who regarded him and nodded. Nelson imitated her nod, and then began to cry. The man put his hat on and then turned away and walked out towards the car with a weeping Nelson, while the woman gathered up a few of his things. The grandmother called out that Nelson was hers and where were they going with him, but there was no answer.

Later that night, Raymond was back home and his grandmother told him that the government folks had taken Nelson, and she said that she didn’t know when he was coming back. She didn’t know where he was going, maybe to live with a white family because this is what had happened to Elijah Prince a month earlier. She said that Nelson was strong, stronger than Raymond. Her hands were folded on the table and they were shaking. The next morning she brought Raymond to stay with his aunt Donna, off the reserve about five miles away. Raymond remained there for two months. He did not attend school any more that fall, and no questions were asked, and it would be years later that he’d learn that he should have been taken with his brother, and might have been if the authorities had decided to come back for him.

Within the first month at his new home, Nelson ran away three times, once almost making it back to Kenora before the police picked him up. Another time, in the middle of January, his adoptive father found him walking on Highway 59, just outside Île des Chênes. Driving back to Lesser, his new father said that Nelson should start appreciating what he’d been given. “You have a mother and father who love you, you have a wonderful home, clothes, food, you have three sisters who would do anything for you. Your name is Nelson Koop, you’re my son now and I’m your father. No one’s going to hurt you. You understand that?”

It had snowed the day before, and the fields were blown over and everywhere there was a pure whiteness that was blinding in the sun. Nelson looked out the passenger window and studied the fields and imagined walking out into the emptiness. After this last escape he did not run again, though he often thought of it. At the beginning of the year he’d been placed in grade five and he’d done very poorly. Halfway through the term, he was sent down to grade four where the boys made fun of him, though they stayed away from him because he was known for having quick, hard fists. On the first day of school a boy named Benjamin Senkiew had hit him and given him a bloody nose. The following day, passing by Senkiew in the hallway, Nelson attacked him and pummelled his face until he was pulled away by the gym teacher. He was suspended for a week and returned to find that he was neither taunted nor talked to and he grew accustomed to the silence and the grudging respect and the hatred that surrounded him.

The fall he turned fourteen he joined the football team and quickly became known for his ruthlessness and his disregard for his own body. He came to be accepted, and for a time he went out with Glenda Ratzlaff, a tall, thin girl, but her father disapproved, and so all he was left with was the recollection of her soft hands sliding up inside his T- shirt as they stood in the cold night behind the curling rink.

As the years passed he relinquished the memories of who he was and where he had come from, though there were times, in the middle of the night, when he woke from a dream in which someone was calling him by the wrong name, and he would sit up and say, “My name is Nelson Seymour.”

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The Time in Between
Excerpt

The typhoon arrived that night. Ada woke to the sound of rain driving against the windows. Above them, on the rooftop, chairs fell and banged against the washstand. The corrugated tin on the stairwell roof worked loose and flapped for an hour before it broke free and fell like a whirling blade down onto the street. Ada was standing at the window watching the palm trees bend in the wind and she saw the tin roofing fly by and land on the tennis courts in the distance. The power went out and then flickered on and finally cut out completely. Ada woke Jon, her brother, who had returned while she was sleeping, and she held his hand and said, “I’m frightened.”

He sat up and said, “It’s a small storm. ­ Don’t worry.”

She could smell sex on him; sometimes the smell was musty and bleachy but tonight it was sweat and the slightest hint of old saliva. That smell. She stood and walked across the room. “The boats are coming in,” she said. “They know something we ­don’t. I’ve counted thirty already.”

The wind pulled at the hotel sign and threw it onto the street below.

“Get away from the window,” Jon said. “The glass could fall in.”

She sat at the edge of his bed and he held her hand and they listened. The wind arrived from out of the sky and from across the ocean and it seemed that it would never end, until it slid away, a deceptive and distant howl, and then returned just as quickly, banging against the trees and buildings, and everything loose was pulled into the maelstrom. She wanted it to stop. She began to shiver and even though Jon was beside her she felt very much alone.

“Look at us. We’re so stupid,” she said.

“Here,” Jon said, and he made her lie down and he covered her. He held his hands over her ears and put his thumbs against her eyes until the hollow core of the typhoon descended. And with that awful stillness came the everyday sounds: the clock on the bureau; something, perhaps a rat, moving about on the rooftop; the dry cough of the old man below them; the song of a woman calling again and again.

“It’s gone,” Ada said.

Jon said it would return. She said that the waiting frightened her more than the wind. She said she believed that their father was dead.

Jon was quiet. A siren sounded. The lights flashed across the dark sky and then disappeared.

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