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Review: Leaving Tomorrow, by David Bergen

Arthur Wolhlgemuht lives on a ranch in Southern Alberta near a town called Tomorrow, opening up the possibility that, if he leaves, he could be considered to be leaving Tomorrow, or he could be leaving tomorrow. He might be leaving Tomorrow tomorrow. He does leave, at the end of the first chapter, which is 136 pages long.
In the very first sentence of the book he says it is essential that a person learn to be an individual, to “form oneself in a unique manner.” He spends the rest of the novel thinking about his quest for individuality, talking about it and not actually doing very much. It is a contemplative novel.
Arthur reads a lot. There are long excerpts from his favourite authors, all of whom are well-known philosophers. Arthur, presumably, will establish his unique character by forming a sort of amalgam of insights from writers such as Flaubert and Kafka.
There are other people in the cast. His dad is from Montana and is basically a good-natured ranch hand. His mother is from a Mennonite family with some strict religious views. His brother Bev, whom he does not like, hits him quite often and seems to be a fairly aggressive kind of guy. He joins the American army, sees combat in Viet Nam and comes home with PTSD severe enough that he has to be hospitalized.
But the important characters are the girls/women with whom Arthur comes into contact. The most important is Isobel, who is sort of a cousin and therefore off limits, except as a friend. The others come and go, with no apparent desire on Arthur’s part to develop any kind of emotional commitment. Apparently he will always be secretly in love with Isobel.
He does leave and winds up in Paris, the city of his dreams, although he didn’t bother to learn to speak French before setting out. He has a tough time. Doesn’t fit in. Falls in love with his landlady, who is married. The best he can manage with his desire to become his own person is to tell himself, at the end of the last chapter, is that he feels the world has room for him.