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See the Child

by David Bergen

David Bergen has staked his literary claim to the turf of rural southern Manitoba, with its particular mix of French (read “earthy”) and Mennonite (read “repressed”) farming communities. In his last novel, he parsed a year in the life of the town of Lesser. The events in See the Child unfold in and around the small town of Furst. Furst might be more optimistically named than Lesser, but whatever else can be said about See the Child,/I> – and it has much to recommend it – it is not a novel suffused with cheerfulness.

Paul Unger has had an easy entry into mid-life. He owns a successful family business in Furst. He is prosperous. He has reliable employees who manage and run his store, and he has sufficient leisure time to explore his avocational interest, which is beekeeping. He is still married to Lise, the mother of his two children, Stephen and Sue. Their union has been strong and elastic enough to accommodate aging’s inevitable vagaries. They are well-connected to their community. They still have a satisfying sex life. By and large, things are rosy. Of course, there is a worm in the bud. Stephen, just turned 18, is running wild. His girlfriend, a volatile young woman named Nicole, gets pregnant. Then, suddenly and tragically, Stephen dies.

His death, and the grief and guilt that attend it, reveal the fragility of those family bonds. The Unger marriage comes unravelled. Paul leaves Lise. He moves to his secondary property, where he keeps his hives. He sees to the bees, and nurses the deep hurt left by his son’s passing. It’s only when the wayward Nicole reappears on the scene, with her son, Sky, that Paul senses the possibility that something good might be salvaged out of all the sadness that has befallen him and his family. His unreasoning love for the grandson he doesn’t know and the half avuncular, half erotic attraction he feels towards Nicole prompt him to take them in. He lets down his defences, and opens himself once again to both happiness and, ultimately, to grief.

See the Child is a rich, dark novel, an unsparing study of a man who finds that sorrow is his most reliable companion. Some are born to misery, and some come to choose it. Paul Unger is one of the latter, and while his story is anything but uplifting, it is a well wrought, finely observed account of one man’s journey along the sad and solitary path that many men, for their own strange reasons, wind up walking.


Reviewer: Bill Richardson

Publisher: HarperFlamingo Canada


Price: $26

Page Count: 224 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-00-225521-9

Released: Apr.

Issue Date: 1999-4

Categories: Fiction: Novels