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Bestselling novelist David Bergen follows his Scotiabank Giller Prize—winning The Time in Between with a haunting novel about the clash of generations — and cultures.
In 1973, outside of Kenora, Ontario, Raymond Seymour, an eighteen-year-old Ojibway boy, is taken by a local policeman to a remote island and left for dead.
A year later, the Byrd family arrives in Kenora. They have come to stay at “the Retreat,” a commune run by the self-styled guru Doctor Amos. The Doctor is an enigmatic man who spouts bewildering truisms, and who bathes naked every morning in the pond at the edge of the Retreat while young Everett Byrd watches from the bushes. Lizzy, the eldest of the Byrd children, cares for her younger brothers Fish and William, and longs for what she cannot find at the Retreat. When Lizzy meets Raymond, everything changes, and Lizzy comes to understand the real difference between Raymond’s world and her own. A tragedy and a love story, the novel moves towards a conclusion that is both astonishing and heartbreaking.
Set during the summer of the Ojibway occupation of Anicinabe Park in Kenora, The Retreat is a finely nuanced, deeply felt novel that tells the story of the complicated love between a white girl and a native boy, and of a family on the verge of splintering forever. It is also a story of the bond between two brothers who were separated in childhood, and whose lives and fates intertwine ten years later.
A brilliant portrait of a time and a place, The Retreat confirms Bergen’s reputation as one of the country’s most gifted and compelling writers.
From the Hardcover edition.
Lizzy allowed that Dee Dee had played a good flirt, but that that was easy for a fourteen-year-old girl who was flirtatious in real life. “That’s not acting,” she said. In the play, Shanti had been a boy, Dee Dee a girl, and Shanti had wooed Dee Dee, who came from the other side of the tracks. Dee Dee’s parents, played by her parents, had forbidden any sort of relationship because Shanti wasn’t a Christian. There was much arguing and tears, and in the end Shanti had become a Christian and the two lovers had gone out together.
When Fish had asked Lizzy, the day before, what time their mother was coming back, William had looked up quickly, bewilderment on his face. Lizzy had said that their mother would meet them back home in Calgary, and William had looked away and his eyes had closed and then opened, as if he believed that Lizzy was making this up. At the pond, the water was cold and William and Fish came up from their swim, shivering, lips blue. Lizzy wrapped them in towels and held them to her chest, one under each arm, until she too felt the chill of their bodies.
He didn’t feel anything but he knew Vernon was shaking him because Vernon’s arms were moving and he knew his own shoulders and head were moving. Vernon was wearing a red vest. He held Raymond’s wrist and with the other hand he pushed against Raymond’s throat as if to stopper something there. He stood and stepped backwards. The front of Raymond’s shirt was full of blood. He saw the blood and it was like a vast hole and his head fell towards the hole onto his chest. The lunge and flicker of his brother floating in a white boat, a herd of deer turning to look backwards, birds disappearing into a black cloud.
She tried to imagine a world without disenchantment, but this thought was fleeting. Earlier, in the car, she had written a letter to Cyril, her boyfriend. The looping script, the promises she would never keep, this had induced in Lizzy a brief longing. She had already forgotten the shape of Cyril’s mouth. Fish had been at her feet. Everett was sleeping on the back floor. William was in the front between their mother and father. He was prone to carsickness and had already thrown up into a plastic bucket and the car still smelled sour.
There had been beets on Everett’s plate and they bled into the spaghetti. Their juice pooled and he could not eat them. His father talked about the dogs and the manhunt as if it were a story that was taking place at a distance. Everett had watched Lizzy’s face, trying to find there some signal, but Lizzy looked blank. And then at night, just after the dream about his mother, he remembered the small cave that Nelson had pointed out to him and he had been certain that this was where Nelson was hiding.