The Age of Hope, David Bergen
HarperCollins, 287 pages
When Hope Plett was growing up in rural Manitoba during the 1930s and 1940s, she didn’t expect an extraordinary life. She was pretty without being beautiful, smart without being brilliant, and generally well liked by the people in her community. Her parents were different; her mother was a reader and her father an alcoholic in a town that favoured industry and sobriety, but Hope herself was relatively conventional. Other than a brief engagement that ended when her fiancé died in a plane crash, her life was ordinary, and its ordinariness suited her just fine.
Until it didn’t. Fast forward to 1960, and Hope is married to the steady, sensible Roy Koop. They have a comfortable home, three children, and another baby on the way. Life should be good, but Hope feels as though she is buckling under the fatigue brought on by the constant demands of a young family. Her friend Emily has read The Feminine Mystique and is contemplating leaving her husband, but Hope doesn’t think that’s the right solution for her. Neither is taking a nap in a field with a crying baby locked in the car, but Hope is desperate for some rest, and her reckless action guarantees her some peace.
The Age of Hope follows Hope through her conventional girlhood, harried motherhood, and into a soul-searching period where Hope learns to be comfortable in her own skin again. It’s a common enough path for many women, but not often written about with as much complexity and avoidance of overwrought drama as here. Bergen’s novel will hold strong appeal for readers of Carol Shields and Alice Munro.