I don’t read much realism. I don’t enjoy it — it tends to lack structure, to lack ideas, to lack style, to lack panache. It’s predictable, formulaic, bland, and (to borrow a term from my former life as a lousy musician) overproduced.
David Bergen writes as if he hates realism for all the same reasons I do, but is committed to realism anyway, and so refuses — aside from the odd, barely noticeable, metafictional comment — to even acknowledge the existence of the genre’s cliches. His work is polished but dark and raw, and crammed with ideas that never threaten to overwhelm. His characters quote Kierkegaard yet it sounds natural and not forced in the least. His dialogue is astounding and the characters constantly surprise without seeming “quirky” (my biggest complaint about characters in modern fiction) or their actions appearing unmotivated.
I’ve only read this book and a few short stories but I can’t wait to read another book by Bergen, which isn’t something I often say about anyone, let alone anyone writing realism. If you’re wondering why you recognize the name David Bergen it’s because he won the Giller Prize in 2005. I haven’t read the book that won the Giller but if it’s as powerful and dark as this book, the win’s not only deserved but, quite frankly, shocking.