David Bergen’s Leaving Tomorrow had me hooked by the very first page with its unbelievably elegant and elevated prose. The Giller-nominated author takes such a simple storyline—boy wants out of his small town—and transforms every page and observation into something romantic and poignant.
In Leaving Tomorrow, Arthur Wohlgemuht—an eloquent, intelligent and romantic youth—yearns for escape from his hometown in Tomorrow, Alberta. Stifled by his mother’s strict faith and his brother Bev’s cruelty, Arthur finds solace in reading and his adopted “double cousin” Isobel. Bev goes off to war and returns suffering from PTSD and when a secret between them creates tension in the family, Arthur finally leaves to pursue his love of women and writing. Unfortunately he discovers that his romantic sensibilities do not coincide with reality and eventually comes to appreciate his home and the feeling of real love.
Arthur’s character is perhaps one of my favourite archetypes throughout all literature—the romantic protagonist who elevates everything and everyone to epic levels then finds that nothing is as he thought it would be. For example, when Arthur moves to Paris, his and Isobel’s dream, he sits in bars every day reading classic works of fiction, with the hopes of luring someone in to engage in epic literary discussion. Instead, the first person who talks to him is a pimp, who coaxes Arthur into bedding one of his prostitutes. Comically outrageous but definitely something that would happen to a naïve person with romantic sensibilities.
An issue to be aware of when reading Leaving Tomorrow is unreliable narration. As the reader is in the mind of Arthur, the overzealous romantic, his narration is that of a storyteller—often exaggerated or possibly untrue. Sometimes he contradicts himself, or blatantly makes a statement that reveals his unreliability, such as “I am telling you this” at the end of one of his tales. However, that stipulation is often the case with first person narratives and in no way deterred me from enjoying this novel.
David Bergen reminded me that I too can be a romantic and created a powerful and hopeful story that I will not forget.