Many Can-lit fans will know of Peter Behrens. He comes out with a new book every few years, he’s won the GG for his fiction in the past, and he looks like he a real-life cowboy. I will admit that I’ve harboured a bit of a crush on him in the past, and when I was lucky enough to meet him in person, his author photos finally made sense, because he described to me how much time he spends on his sailboat with his family, thus explaining the incredible tan he sports year round.
It’s not surprising that he’s a fan of the sea, because the freedom of being out on the water is a feeling that is echoed in his newest book Carry Me. It’s a family saga that begins shortly before the first war, and ends during the second world war, with lots of back and forth in between. Unlike some writers who struggle with time changes, Behrens deftly brings the reader with him through multiple jumps in time by simply separating each section with a blank page. This seems like a very simple and obvious tactic, but I’m shocked at how many authors do not do this, thus ending up with a confused reader. We’re all trying to save paper, but in this case, a page break is definitely necessary.
Something else that set this book apart for me was its ambition. Behrens attempts to cover such a lengthy, complicated time in Europe’s history that it would have been difficult to keep the plot from unravelling. He keeps us engaged with the protagonists Billy and Karin, and we come to feel as though we know them intimately: two long-time friends turned lovers. The ending stuck with me for awhile-I wasn’t expecting it, but it seemed fitting all the same.
So why am I not in love with this book? I don’t know really, other than the fact that nothing really elevated it about all the other great historical fiction I’ve read. There are so many great books that detail our past so I find that one needs to write a very special story in order to make it stand out above the rest. Yes, Carry Me was unique in it’s attempt to deal with both World Wars in depth, but I wonder if it might have been stronger if it had limited its focus.
Literary historical fiction; is there enough of this in the world yet? I don’t think so, because we haven’t seemed to learn our lesson, we’re still making the same mistakes that they did in the past. So bring on more of the old-timey stories, we clearly need ’em!