Bergen, David 1957-
BERGEN, David 1957-
PERSONAL: Born 1957, in Manitoba, Canada.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins, 10 East 53rd St., 7th Fl., New York, NY 10022-5299.
CAREER: Fiction writer.
Sitting Opposite My Brother (short stories), Turnstone (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), 1994.
A Year of Lesser, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
See the Child, HarperFlamingo Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.
The Case of Lena S, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
Contributor to several editions of The Journey Prize Anthology (Canada).
SIDELIGHTS: "David Bergen's stories are identifiably, disturbingly, marked 'Bergen,'" wrote P. J. Gerbrecht in a review of Sitting Opposite My Brother in Canadian Literature. But John Oughton, reviewing the same volume for Books in Canada, aligned Bergen with other Manitoban writers who shared a Mennonite heritage, specifically Di Brandt and Patrick Friesen. Thus achieving both individuality and communality, Bergen, at his best, Oughton remarked, "plays skillfully on many levels."
The stories in Bergen's first book, Sitting Opposite My Brother, deal with ordinary realistic problems of love and marriage, sibling relationships, alcoholism, mental illness, and religious faith and doubt. Many of them feature a set of recurring family members, including Timothy, a Mennonite missionary, and Thomas, his doubting brother, who serves frequently as narrator. Blending careful observation with occasional philosophic flights, Bergen uses guilt-ridden first-person narrators to portray a dark vision of life in which, according to Pat Bolger in Canadian Materials, "religion . . . is a source of pain rather than comfort, and families are unhappy or corrupt."
Both the title story and the story "Where You're From" in Sitting Opposite My Brother are narrated by Thomas; other stories cited favorably by Bolger were "The Bottom of the Glass," which concerns a drowned child and its father; "Cousins," a tale about a sexual relationship between cousins; "La Rue Prevette," which depicts three dysfunctional generations in a family; and the very short "The Vote," which ironically portrays a congregation's process of selecting a pastor. In "The Translator," Timothy marries, or at least appears to have married, a Guyanese woman who has emigrated to North America.
Gerbrecht analyzed "The Translator" as an example of the alienation that she found in many of Bergen's stories, particularly in those dealing with the brothers Timothy and Thomas; she speculated that Bergen's Mennonite relatives and friends would not approve of his often-ironic view of that culture. Oughton perceived in Bergen's stories "a common tone—a sense of life as painful and random, yet holding moments of tenderness and beauty." Commenting on his own work—and perhaps also on his working method—in a press release quoted by Oughton, Bergen observed that "only the minute detail will save these characters." Oughton, despite noting some lapses of craftsmanship in the stories, particularly in transitions, asserted, "[Bergen's] work is worth following, both for the complexity and realism of his characters and for the pleasures of lines like, 'He was nothing to her, and nothing was what she was looking for.'"
Bergen's first novel, A Year of Lesser, was published by HarperCollins in 1996. It describes a year in the life of one Johnny Fehr, who volunteers at a teen center run by a man named Lesser. Fehr is unhappily married to alcoholic Charlene and is having an affair with the cynical widow Lorraine. Library Journal reviewer David A. Beron enjoyed the novel's descriptions, which he called "distinctive," more than its plot and characterizations, claiming that weaknesses in the latter two areas prevented him from feeling deeply about the characters and events.
See the Child, published in 1999, is a story of grief and the search for healing, guilt and attempted absolution, disintegrating family relationships and the process of restoring broken ties. It begins early one morning when small town businessman Paul Unger is roused by the news that his estranged teenaged son, Stephen, has been found dead. Unable to cope with the resulting depression and guilt, Unger withdraws from his wife and adult daughter to his remote farm, where he pours his energies into his longtime interest of bee keeping. Nicole, Stephen's promiscuous girlfriend, arrives at the farm with two-year-old Sky, whom she says is Stephen's son. Unger turns to them to assuage his pain, despite the talk his devotion to this new "family" causes among his old family and in his small town. Bergen employs flashbacks to depict Unger's troubled relationship with Stephen and the events that led to his death. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called See the Child a "plaintive, deeply moving novel," praising Bergen's concise, revealing writing, and particularly noting the strong portrayals of secondary characters. "This authenticity deepens the novel's perspective, allowing this compassionate tale of mourning to be told with graceful honesty," the reviewer reflected. Gillian Engberg, writing in Booklist, noted the questions the book raises concerning how one should live and take care of others and oneself. She found it "an uneven whole of beautiful parts." The parts she considered best, "written in Bergen's tender, unflinching, precise, language . . . capture private revelations between people." A Kirkus Reviews contributor regarded it to be "emotionally compelling," and concluded, "The novel succeeds brilliantly in showing how people who believe they're solving problems and healing wounds are instead helplessly drifting away from one another."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of See the Child, p. 1573.
Books in Canada, February, 1994, review of Sitting Opposite My Brother, p. 32; October, 1996, review of A Year of Lesser, p. 40.
Canadian Literature, spring, 1996, review of Sitting Opposite My Brother, pp. 144-146; summer, 1998, review of A Year of Lesser, pp. 138-139; winter, 2000, review of See the Child, pp. 177-178.
Canadian Materials, January, 1994, review of Sitting Opposite My Brother, p. 15.
Globe and Mail, March 27, 1999, review of See the Child, p. D16.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1997, review of A Year of Lesser, p. 4; March 15, 2002, review of See the Child, p. 356.
Library Journal, February 1, 1997, review of A Year of Lesser, p. 104.
New York Times Book Review, December 7, 1994, review of A Year of Lesser, p. 64; April 6, 1997, review of A Year of Lesser, p. 29; June 1, 1997, review of A Year of Lesser, p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, April 8, 2002, review of See the Child, p. 203.
Quill & Quire, April, 1999, review of See the Child, pp. 26-27.*