A Year of Lesser

by David Bergen,
234 pages,
ISBN: 0006481078

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First Novels - This Month, a Brood of Ten
by Eva Tihanyi

David Bergen, in A Year of Lesser (Harper-Collins, 215 pages, $16 paper), does a much more impressive job of dealing with the apparent spiritual vacuum in contemporary life. The book opens with a salvation: the "saving" by a local evangelist of the novel's central character, Johnny Fehr. Johnny, a feed supply salesman in the small Manitoba town of Lesser, is "despite his penchant for grasping faith and a desire to appear clean, a wanderer, a tumble weed who sticks to no one and no thing. He is easy, a likeable and gullible fool."

Johnny's major Achilles heel is that he is "a lover of women". He and his wife Charlene live in the house he inherited from his father when his father committed suicide a year ago. While he genuinely cares for Charlene, he is nonetheless engaged in an affair with Loraine, a widow who lives with her fourteen-year-old son on a chicken farm. Life starts to hammer at Johnny when Loraine becomes pregnant with his child and the chronically unhappy Charlene dies in an accidental house fire from which she is too drunk to escape.

Bergen is comfortable with his material and weaves scenes together smoothly. He explores the murky depths of the soul in which moral decisions are ultimately made and examines the quirks of his characters and the hazards of small-town life. His language is honed to a sharp edge, but in its directness it does not lack revealing details or meaningful dialogue. His perception embraces all his characters, both men and women, and he looks at them, warts and all, unflinchingly.


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