The Time in Between
Reviewed: April 7, 2008
By: David Bergen / narrated by Michael Hogan and Tricia Collins
Publisher: BTC Audio Books
3 CDs. 4 hours, $29.95
The folks at Between the Covers made a very wise decision when they determined
that David Bergen's novel needed two narrative voices. They might even have
gone for three, but two was the minimum.
The novel is told two us from two viewpoints. First we have Charles Boatman,
an expatriate American now living in in British Columbia. Charles is that archetype
of the Vietnam War era, a former soldier who was never able to reconstruct himself
after he came home from the war. His rejection of the past and of all the trappings
of the nation that sent him off to fight is underlined by his flight to Canada
and his retreat to the life of a woodsman in the Pacific Northwest.
What's odd about Charles is that he is able to pull himself together after the
death of his wife, and when his children are sent to him to raise, he does this
to the best of his ability, succumbing to his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
symptoms once more only after they have grown and left home. It's true that
they do this fairly early in life and in some unconventional ways, but they
care about him enough to try to find him later on, so he can't have been that
bad a father.
Obsessed with a novel by the North Vietnamese writer Dang Tho, which seems to
relate to his own experiences (Bergen has penned an extensive summary of that
book, which is why a third narrator might have been useful) and to the crime
that he feels he committed there - a crime that we are kept from learning about
for a very long time - Charles packs up and heads back to the scene of his great
shame, hoping to visit the places that marked him so and find some kind of absolution
after 30 years.
He knocks about in Danang and a few other places without much in the way of
a plan beyond that, meets a few other visiting foreigners, almost has an affair
and finally reaches a decision about what to do with himself.
All this is narrated by Michael Hogan, in a voice that somehow managed to make
me forget hearing him growl out his lines as Saul Tighe on Battlestar Galactica
for the last three years.
Sometime later two of his adult children, the twins, Ada and Jon, decide to
find out what has happened to their father and arrive at the scene of his disappearance.
This is Ada's story, really, narrated by Tricia Collins. Jon pretty much vanishes
into the urban Asian nightlife that is part of his gay lifestyle, leaving her
to do most of the actual searching. She has the help - whether she wants it
or not - of a teenage street urchin named Yen who turns up nearly everywhere
she goes and actually does prove to be of assistance.
Among those who knew her father she meets Elaine Gouds, the lonely wife of an
American missionary, and Hoang Vu, an artist and philosopher from whom she learns
some of what her father did in Danang and with whom she also has a brief affair.
Key to her quest is Lieutenant Dat, a police officer who seems to do his best
to help her, though apparently he has ulterior motives that didn't make it into
the BTC abridged version of the novel.
The two strands of the novel are told in alternating sections, though the narratives
are out of sync, because Charles' story actually ends before Ada's begins. That
statement verges on being a spoiler, but it is clear to the reader or listener
what Charles is going to do long before he does it and the only puzzle about
his end is how it will come.
Ada's is the more complex story here, because she has to unravel the mystery,
find her own solutions, and deal with the situation as it has been left to her.
A novel like The Time in Between has the potential to be totally depressing,
but Bergen manages to make it a page turner and I found it to be good company
on the long drive home from the city.
The Time in Between won Bergen a Giller Prize in 2005.