EXCERPT: The Age of Hope by David Bergen

Each day this week, CBC Books will present an excerpt from one of the Canada Reads 2013 contenders. Today, read from the book representing Prairies and North, The Age of Hope by David Bergen. Hockey Night in Canada co-host Ron MacLean chose to defend The Age of Hope during the 2013 debates. In this passage, the main character, Hope Plett, is falling in love with the man she would eventually marry, Roy Koop.

The Age of Hope

By David Bergen

She discovered that she could breathe around Roy. He wasn't silly like the younger men she had known. He was thoughtful and took notice of her and always smiled in a shy manner whenever he greeted her with "Hello, Hope." Here was a man who could pay attention. He had an intimate knowledge of automobiles and could recognize the make and model of a car simply by the taillight. Over a period of Sundays, she approached him after church, and together they would stand beside his 1949 Chevy and she talked. At first about herself, keeping it brief and self-deprecating.

She had spilled a bedpan over her shoes one day. Sister Andrea, "a dried-up prune," had upbraided her for ten minutes. "She wants to make me into a smaller version of her. I'm afraid she might be succeeding."

"A prune? I don't think so."

She did a slight pirouette. She was wearing a knock-off Dior that her mother had sewn for her. Floral-print cotton, bright greens and pinks. A cinched-in waist and a wide black belt like a strip of fallow earth, and below the earth her legs, in real stockings and high heels. He certainly noticed. She touched the flank of his car. "Chevrolet," she said.

"The only car worth driving."

"It's yours?"

"Every salesman gets a car. It's easier to sell them if you're seen driving them. So, it's not mine."

"It's beautiful."

"You want a ride? Do you have a way home?"

A Chevy Fleetline fastback, two-door, with an immaculate interior. Over the next month, when Hope returned home for the weekends, she and Roy took long drives in the country, the late fall sky the colour of pewter, Crosby on the radio, the dust floating out behind them like a tail, and sometimes, when their windows were rolled down, the dust found its way inside, leaving a light coat on the interior of the car. One time Roy pulled to the shoulder and got out and walked around and opened the door for her. "Your turn," he said, and she found herself behind the wheel as he instructed her on how to let out the clutch slowly while pushing down on the gas pedal. The car was big and cumbersome and it jerked and stalled and she started it again, determined not to make a fool of herself. Three on the tree. This was the term he used for the gearshift, which was on the column of the steering wheel. He placed his hand over hers and gently showed her the movements. And then they were moving, picking up speed, and she squealed softly, the same noise she would make several months later when he first kissed her, one of pleasure and surprise, as if there were an engine deep inside of her that had been switched on. Sometimes they ended up in the city, where they went to a movie or out for a meal, but it was in the cocoon of the car, in that enclosed space where she could observe his fine hands on the wheel and where he talked to her about his dreams of one day owning his own dealership, that she felt at home with him.

Excerpted from The Age of Hope by David Bergen. Copyright David Bergen, 2012. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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