DAVID BERGEN reading Saturday (October 22) 2 pm, at the Brigantine Room; at a round table with JENNEY ERPENBECK , Melania G. Mazzucco and Leon Rooke October 23, 3 pm in the Brigantine Room.
THE TIME IN BETWEEN by David Bergen (McClelland & Stewart), 288 pages, $34.99 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Winnipegger David Bergen, whose spare and suggestive style draws comparisons to Raymond Carver, is one of those writers whose novels are more widely praised than read. Until now. His latest, The Time In Between, made the Giller short list, and the word "breakout" is being tossed around.
Bergen writes about erotically charged, damaged people struggling with loss, longing and the search for connection. His new novel projects these themes onto a wider screen, confronting the colonial and psychological legacy of the Vietnam War for two generations of a family.
Charles Boatman (a moniker loaded with Dickensian foretelling) returns from Vietnam shattered. In the fear and confusion of combat, he killed a young boy. Life back home unravels and Charles moves to a mountain in BC, living like a hermit with his three children. As years pass, he's increasingly haunted by the war and returns to Vietnam. When he disappears, two of his children follow.
Vietnam is where the novel's heart beats, and Bergen skilfully weaves his characters' journeys into their personal hearts of darkness. In his search to remember, Charles is thwarted by the Vietnamese need to forget. As daughter Ada looks for Charles, the missing man and the emotionally unavailable father, she meets a teenage street hustler and an artist who becomes her lover. Neither brings her closer to her father, but both force her to question the values and assumptions she brings along.
At times the novel evokes iconic Vietnam narratives like The Ugly American and Apocalypse Now. But the book adds another perspective. A novel within the novel tells the horrific experience of a North Vietnamese soldier who survives Scheherazade-style by bartering his life for a story.
The Time In Between may not save anyone's life, but its haunting, very human characters will live with you for a long time.