The Matter with Morris by David Bergen. HarperCollins 2010.
Hello! Welcome to Willow Books. I decided that in 2011, I would keep a separate journal of the books that I read. I finished out 2010 with a year-end reading roundup at Willow House Chronicles, which you can read here. Since Christmas, I have been able to enjoy some relaxing moments lounging in front of the fire and catching up on some reading, an excellent past time for cold winter days. I set myself the goal of reading the 5 books that were short-listed for the 2010 Giller Prize.
The Giller Prize was founded in 1994 by Jack Rabinovitch in honour of his late wife, Doris Giller, who passed away from cancer the year before. The award recognized excellence in Canadian fiction and awards a cash prize annually of $25,000. You can read more about the Giller Prize and past winners here. David Bergen, author of The Matter with Morris is featured on a video segment at the Giller site in which he provides some background on what led him to write this novel.
The matter with Morris is, in short, that his son has died. His young son, Martin, enlisted and was subsequently killed in Afghanistan, a victim of friendly fire. After the loss of Martin, Morris finds that he and his wife are drifting apart, and he moved out of the family home, taking up residence in his own condominium. Morris struggles with his work as a syndicated columnist and sets aside his writing, uncertain that he will ever return to his column. He begins a correspondence with a similarly bereaved woman who read of his lose in his column.
Morris lives in very fortunate circumstances. He is married to a medical doctor and enjoys the benefits of a substantial income. His own workload is light. He drives a Jaguar, wears Hugo Boss suits, drinks fine wines. Yet he doesn’t seem to have any hobbies or interests or passions beyond comfortable living. And sex. When he is separated from his wife, he indulges in encounters with escorts at hotels. One of the young business women he meets is an acquaintance of his daughter, earning money to purportedly save up for medical studies. He disapproves of her activities, even though he is a client.
I found the segments in which Morris muses over where responsibility lies for the deaths of young men in Afghanistan the most compelling. Who is to blame? The politicians who set armies in motion? The manufacturers of munitions? A society that endorses gun culture? Is the war in Afghanistan worth fighting? There are no easy answers.
The trouble with The Matter with Morris was that I had a hard time caring what the matter with Morris was. I was about three-quarters of the way through the book before I started to feel any real interest in or connection with Morris. By the end of the story, Morris is coming to terms with his son’s death and is preparing to move on, a satisfying conclusion to the novel.