The Matter With Morris. David Bergen

The Matter With Morris. David Bergen. In the Argo Catalog.

The Matter With Morris garnered a lot of attention this fall as it was short listed for the Giller Prize and its publisher, Harper Collins, went ad happy over it. I decided to ask my father to read it, he often vets books for me. He gave it a mediocre review claiming it was worth reading but not all that special and unlikely to win the Giller. After reading the book myself I largely agree with him (of course he has not won the Giller, The Sentamentalists did). It was not a bad book, but a rather uneven one for a veteran writer like Bergen.

Morris is a middle aged man that has spent his adult life as a columnist telling the world about his family and their trials and tribulations. The main event in the book is one you never get to see. Morris, a pacifist with a Methodist background, challenges his belligerent son to join the army during one of those oh-so-normal-fights parents have with teenagers. Sadly, the child goes off to join the Canadian military and in little time is shot dead in a friendly fire incident. The death tears the family apart as both parents cope poorly with it.

The fact of friendly fire is an interesting twist in the book. It changes the way the parents and the reader view the death, it guarantees that they and we see the death as a waste. This creates a huge tension in the book as the dead child is not viewed as a hero. I think viewing war dead as heroes helps families in dealing with their loss, when this olive branch is revoked, as Bergen points out, only tragedy ensues. The killer is a young man that will have to deal with his past for the rest of his life. His attempts to contact the family and the process of forgiveness on the part of the parents could have been the heart of the novel, I would have enjoyed it more, it could have won the awards. But I did not write the book Bergen did. There is a single scene that lasts a few  pages that was heart wrenching and demonstrative of Bergen’s abilities and humiliatingly reminds me why I write reviews and he writes books.

The real problem with the book is that the characters did not seem very real to me. I do not think I am any closer to understanding what a man going through such a situation feels. Bergen has us watch the characters but not really engage with them. This is where the dissatisfaction with the novel stems from. I am surprised that despite this lack the book was nominated for the Giller. Surely Illustrado is more complete and accomplishes its goals more fully, Mr. Shakespeare’s Bastard offers better prose and other books I have not read that came out this year offered more complete and believable characters.

All that said, this is an important story, if not book, and I suggest you read it unless you know of a better novel dealing with the subject. (If you do please contact me I would love to read it).

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