David Bergen is celebrated as one of Canada’s best writers, and his works have received plenty of recognition in the form of nominations for the Governor General’s Literary Awards and the Dublin Literary Award. His body of work includes several novels and short story collections, including last year’s Here the Dark, which was shortlisted for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize. His latest work, Out of Mind, is a companion piece to his novel The Matter with Morris, another Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist from 2010.
In Out of Mind, Bergen takes the reader deep into the mind of Lucille Black, a psychiatrist who struggles to guide herself through difficulty, even though she is adept at doing so for others. Her ex-husband has published a memoir that intimately details their life, their relationship and the death of their son, and this exposition of personal grief has impressed on her a profound feeling of betrayal.
The novel follows Lucille as she travels to Thailand, where her daughter has joined an apparent cult, then on to France to attend the wedding of a former flame. Bergen parallels Lucille’s physical journey across the globe in the emotional and mental journey she embarks on as she wrestles with her role in her family. In meeting the needs of her children, grandchild and ex-husband, she has compromised her dedication to herself.
Out of Mind brings the reader into Lucille’s rich and complex inner life. Through her thoughts and feelings about the people she meets, the places she sees and the things she experiences, we come to understand that Lucille is a woman torn — torn out of her comfort zone, torn by the loss of her son and the dissolution of her marriage and torn between her duty to her friends and family and her personal desires.
By way of memories of her past and moments in her present, the story of Lucille’s life plays out in a sharp and unidealistic way. Bergen portrays Lucille to the reader in much the same way that she sees the world: brutally and beautifully detailed. Her analytical — and critical — mind may make her seem uncompromising, but it is obvious that she is as stringent with herself as she is with others. Reading through Out of Mind, the reader is drawn into Lucille’s gravity and cannot help but root for her to find that which she seeks.
Her memories of friends, lovers, family members, patients and strangers comprise the lens that Lucille uses to explore her wants and needs and to get to know herself. In life’s endless cycle of love and loss, sadness and happiness and pain and pleasure, she seems to seek something that is almost universally sought: peace, both within and outside of herself.
Lucille’s story and character reflect the realities of life, reassuring us that we are not alone in our joy or in our pain. In spite of all she has faced, she is still standing. Her strength and her struggle are so quintessentially human that they act as an important reminder that our vulnerability and our perseverance is not for naught.
David Bergen’s Out of Mind will be available Sept. 14.