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.