September 16, 2012

David Bergen: A Fan's Appreciation

by Tannis Sprott

I haven't lived in Manitoba for 29 years, and my feelings about my childhood, and memories of living there, tend to be greatly influenced by what's going on in my life at any given moment. When I'm stuck on the 401 heading into Toronto in rush hour, I desperately miss being able to walk from one side of town to the other in 15 minutes (20 if you dawdled, and really, why wouldn't you?). Then there are the times when I want to try cooking something exotic for dinner , much easier to do in the city.

In general, my memories are centred around nostalgic visions of glorious sunsets, starry skies on crystal clear nights, the sound of snow crunching under foot instead of shplopping, the (incessant) wind in my hair, etc., etc. 

Imagine my surprise, then, when I had what can only be described as a visceral experience when reading David Bergen's "The Age of Hope", a story which follows the life of Hope, who grows up in Eden, Manitoba, gives up nursing school to marry Roy Koop, bears four children, and spends a lifetime struggling with who she is, where she is, and how she seems to dance on the periphery of the life she imagines she wants.

Bergen so profoundly caught the essence of small town life - Hope's sense of being constrained by the smallness of her world; her desire to broaden her experiences, but never quite sure how to go about it; her sense of isolation that continues, even though her life is actually a tremendously full one. I learned to love her through the course of the book, living her life right along side her for five decades.

And I have David Bergen to thank for cleaning the dust off my rear view mirror, allowing a whole cascade of memories to come flooding back. It's interesting how belonging to a small community, where everyone knows everyone else, can be both incredibly supportive, and tremendously isolating. I'm looking forward to Tuesday night with great anticipation, as literary stars David Bergen (with "The Age of Hope") and Richard Ford (with "Canada") compare fictional notes on all things prairie. With any luck, it will be a clear Manitoba night, and I can get reacquainted with those other stars after the show. What a wondrous homecoming that would be!

Tannis Sprott currently lives in Guelph, Ontario but will soon be "home" temporarily.
Look for more posts by Tannis throughout THIN AIR 2012.

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