David Bergen's 'The Age of Hope' a complex tale of longing and disappointment | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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David Bergen's 'The Age of Hope' a complex tale of longing and disappointment

The cover of "The Age of Hope," by David Bergen, is shown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
September 25, 2012 - 4:17 PM

TORONTO - Award-winning writer David Bergen has dedicated his seventh novel to his mother-in-law, who provided the inspiration for "The Age of Hope."

But the beautifully written book, which covers more than 50 years in the life of Hope Plett who grows up in a small town near Winnipeg and marries the son of a local auto dealer, is not the story of Doris's life, Bergen explained.

"She was born in 1930 very much like Hope. If parts of the novel reflect incidents in her life, which they do, that doesn't mean that Hope is Doris. Doris was a take-off point," the Winnipeg-based author said this week during a visit to Toronto to promote the book published by HarperCollins.

"She spurred the inkling of the novel, the idea for the novel. It wasn't so much what happened to her. It was her nature. I used her as a sounding board for bouncing things off of, but ultimately the fiction took over and it became a novel.

"It isn't so much a novel about what happens to a woman. It isn't the incidents. It's how she responds to the world around her."

Bergen said Doris Loewen’s reaction to the novel was "How did you know how I think?"

Hope grows up in a Mennonite town, but in a way she's an outsider. Her mother is Scottish and her hard-working father "had no use for religion," preferring to drink and party.

"That too affects how she grows up and affects who she is in that town and what she becomes — always sort of an outsider and even outside of herself a little bit. She's always sort of observing herself and watching herself from the outside and watching herself behave or misbehave though she doesn't do a lot of misbehaving," Bergen said.

When she does break out of the box, most of the time no one knows about it.

Says Bergen: "She's hiding what is the rebel in her, knowing very well she would be judged for her behaviour."

Readers are told "hers was a plain life, full of both poverty and pride," before the novel goes on to illustrate that life as complex and contradictory.

Hope gives up her nursing studies to marry Roy Koop, who sells cars and has aspirations to buy out his father's dealership. They have four children and a large home with all the mod cons.

As the decades unfold, what seems to be a safe, predictable existence overwhelms Hope. She is always thinking about who she is and where she fits in among the demands of her children, the expectations of her husband and the challenges of her best friend, Emily, who has just read "The Feminine Mystique." She undergoes electric shock therapy, the result of a breakdown after the birth of her fourth child. Then a downturn in the economy causes Roy to become overextended at the dealership and they lose everything.

Though Roy is a pillar of the community, his financial ruin means they must leave Eden, starting over in Winnipeg.

"The town itself sees financial success as being blessed ... You are obviously close to God if you've managed to make money and keep it. Those who are pious are those who are successful and if you, like Roy, fail, then it's almost as if you are a leper and nobody wants to come near you," said Bergen, who lives in Winnipeg with his wife Mary and also has four children.

The novel is set up with five sections — Innocence, Despair, Profit, Longing and Hope.

"I knew the arc of Hope's life. ... I knew in a quite specific way where she would end up. I knew she would still be alive at the end of the novel and that she would be older and wiser and in some ways more content with who she is. She's come to accept that she may never have grandchildren. She's come to accept that her children won't always necessarily be nice to her. She's come to accept her aloneness, her solitude."

Bergen said he's been told that "The Age of Hope" is one of those rare novels that ends happily.

"I'm not sure if it ends happily, but it doesn't end tragically. There's always a tragic sort of element that hovers around Hope's life and she's also a contradictory character. She behaves one way but thinks in another way. She knows what she should do, but she doesn't necessarily do it. Her interior life is much richer than her exterior life."

Bergen's previous novel, "The Matter With Morris," was shortlisted for the 2010 Scotiabank Giller. "'Morris' is really a companion novel to this one. It's like the 50-year-old male who's misbehaving in a certain way whereas this is a much more low-key, softer book, I suppose, but still both of them searching in a way."

Bergen, 55, has won multiple awards for his writing, including the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2005 for "The Time in Between." But he didn't publish his first story until he was 31.

He'd actually planned to be a journalist — "but I couldn't stand the thought of knocking on doors and talking to strangers" — and said he even turned down a job with The Canadian Press news service to cover the Winnipeg Jets hockey team. He became an English teacher and wrote in his spare time. After he won the Giller, he came home one day and told his wife Mary he had quit his teaching job.

Though he very much likes the interaction with students, he said he'd always aimed to get out of the profession so he could write. He keeps his hand in by teaching writing online for Toronto's Humber College.

Bergen treats his writing like a job, renting a space in downtown Winnipeg that holds only a desk, computer (with no Internet) and telephone. Only three people know the office phone number. When he's writing he works from about 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. His wife and good friend Larry are his first readers.

When he's in the midst of a novel he said he tries to stop writing mid-sentence, mid-paragraph or mid-idea "so I know exactly what I'm going to be writing when I come back the next day. You just sit down and pick up where you left off. You know exactly what the scene is, what the characters are doing. I never finish a scene at the end of the day. It works for me."

And with a book of short stories and seven novels under his belt, that would indeed appear to be the case.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

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