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STRANGER – Recommended Reading

Stranger
by David Bergen
HarperCollins
Pages: 272
List Price: 29.99

I was delighted to hear David Bergen’s new book Stranger was coming out this fall. The cover kicked up the anticipation another notch. See The Child also had a great cover, with The Time Between coming close, but this is the best I’ve seen on any of his books, or out this season.

stranger

I have started  the way I once did for the Winnipeg Review, talking about the acquisition, the provenance, of the book in my hands, what it feels like, looks like, and smells like. (Missing, three fingers of scotch over just the right amount of ice). The size and weight now a factor because of arthritis in my hands. As does knowing David’s (he’s a friend) royalties are significantly higher on the e-book (I have a Kobo) exceeding his royalty dollar value on each sale despite the much lower price of the e-book. Still I persist in the romance of the book and of reading from the printed page.

I will start taking out books as long as they have them in libraries, soon, as I have run out of money; but will continue adding newly published books of those writers I have known and whose writing I respect and value as literature, to my own private library. (Oh, fuck off! It’s my website and I can be as pompous as I want!) Others I will give to a library, if they’ll still take them. Often it seems they’ve run out of money for buying books too.

>>>>

Stranger opens with a stranger coming to town. Dr. Mann, has come to work in a Guatemalan fertility clinic next to a lake with powers that are supplemented by the ministrations of fertility doctors and women who care for each woman who comes trying to conceive. David’s fine hand with sensuality is on display in the clinic as women treat women, and with the affair between Dr. Mann and Iso. I found his foreshadowing a little heavy, Dr. Mann loves riding his motorcycle all over the treacherous mountainside twists and turns, usually without a helmet. There are some nice moments describing Iso riding behind, but often Mann rides alone. Predictably Mann crashes and suffers brain damage losing cognitive function to appreciate he has impregnated his lover. Mann’s wife, who had previously come for treatment finds out about the impending birth and makes a deal with the General Manager, who takes the baby away the minute it is born, and Mrs. Mann takes the child back to the United States.

Iso’s full name – Paraiso Perdido – is Paradise Lost. I enjoy these references and nods to myth and literary forbears. If it’s ok to sprinkle a book, or writing, or text, with pop culture references, surely it’s ok to include literary references for those like me who like that sort of thing.

The largest part of the novel is Iso’s quest of to regain her child to take back to Guatemala. She must cross two borders and enter a gated community which is called Zone 7, as the novel reveals it is set sometime in the future. Apparently this future is a lot closer than we think if the bizarre US election is any indication. What I don’t understand is why this book is not getting more attention from prize judges, or the American and Canadian press covering the immigration story as part of the US election. Bergen writes contemporary novels, novels of his time, which I admire. Stranger resonates with the news stories of today’s poor, looking for a better life all over the world.

On a personal level Iso’s quest has all the elements of a suspenseful adventure novel with stakes that couldn’t be any higher. Here Bergen’s story telling, use of free indirect discourse, and structure are highlighted. Iso’s propulsive story takes on an air of inevitability without foreshadowing or becoming predictable. I won’t give away the ending because you should buy the book in either format and enjoy it as much as I did. Great book for Christmas giving.

The novel is told from a woman’s point of view, tough territory for a male novelist these days. The last time this was done successfully in a novel I’ve read was Richard Wright’s novel Clara Callan. Using a woman’s voice wasn’t a factor in the glowing Globe & Mail review, or for me as I grow more and more anxious about limits being placed on the imagination of writers in North America.

I am glad there are still writers like David “who make shit up.” I hope the rights for US print edition are taken up soon and the book is released there in 2017. Movie options anyone?

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