Review: The Retreat — David Bergen

Read: 26
To Go: 74

Book List:
21. The First Deadly Sin — Lawrence Sanders
22. Exclusive — Sandra Brown
23. White Hot — Sandra Brown
24. The Black Ice — Michael Connelly
25. The Concrete Blonde — Michael Connelly
26. The Retreat — David Bergen

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Finished reading: May 23, 2013

I found The Retreat by accident. I was wandering along Bloor in early spring, lemon-meringue ice cream from Greg’s in my hand, when I stopped at the BMV and checked out the bargain shelf in front of the store. The book was sitting right on top, like it was just waiting for me, with a $1 price sticker. How could I refuse?

In 1973, a local policeman takes 18-year-old Ojibway teen Raymond Seymour out in his boat and leaves the boy stranded on an island to punish him for dating his (white) niece.

Months later, the Byrd family shows up in Kenora to stay for the summer at “the Retreat,” a commune run by the bizarre Doctor Amos and his wife. The Byrds’ eldest child, Lizzy, spends her days taking care of her three younger brothers while her parents fight inside their cabin. But when she meets Raymond everything changes, and she begins to appreciate the difference between her world and his.

The Retreat takes place during the summer of the Ojibway occupation of Anicinabe Park in Kenora, and is rife with that year’s tension between whites and natives. When Bergen focused on the political climate, and on the discrimination that natives faced at the hands of the police, I was hooked. Scenes like Lizzy’s moment of enlightenment, when she realizes that Raymond doesn’t have the same ability as her to report police violence, are where the novel shines. The story of Raymond’s brother, who was taken away from his family to be given to a white couple, who were presumed to be better parents, was a heartbreaking example of governmental violence against natives. And the novel’s conclusion was similarly arresting. In that way, The Retreat was a fascinating examination of privilege and intersectional discrimination.

But when the focus was taken away from that, the novel suffered. The Retreat and its unusual inhabitants, the unhappy Byrd family, and the icky Doctor Amos couldn’t hold my interest. The Retreat was a mixed bag, and I admit that I was only truly invested in half of it. But the half I cared about was stunning.

Next book: Stranglehold — Robert Rotenberg

– Kelsey

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