Book Review: One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, by Andrez Bergen
Author: Andrez Bergen
Publisher: Perfect Edge Books, October 26, 2012
Length: 268 pages
One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is the second novel of author Andrez Bergen. It both is and isn’t a follow-up book to his first novel, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. I say it both is and isn’t, because the novel takes a path less traveled as far as sequels go; it follows along what happens to TSMG’s antagonist, Wolram E. Deaps, after the end of that tale, rather than continuing on to tell more of the story of Floyd and Nina. It is difficult to review this book – or indeed, discuss it at all – without spoiling a bit of the end of TSMG, so if you have not yet read that book and plan to, I would suggest reading it before reading further about this book. That said …
Wolram E. Deaps is pretty sure he’s dead. He’s found himself wandering a silent, lonely road in some sort of purgatory, drifting aimlessly for time untold. Until he finds himself at the door of a beautiful Japanese geisha named Kohana. Kohana believes they are now ‘Gaki’ – “hungry ghosts” – “Spirits of jealous or greedy people, cursed with an insatiable desire for the good things in life.” Unable to help himself, Deaps finds himself following along behind Kohana as she revisits the events of her long life on Earth, eventually coming to revisit some of his own.
As I’ve mentioned, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude both is and is not a sequel. I would say Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat is perhaps not a necessary prerequisite read, but highly recommended, to understand little bits of conversation that mention past events. That said, readers of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat should not come to One Hundred Years of Vicissitude expecting more of the same. It is a completely different book, both in content and in feel. Whereas TSMG was narrated by and told from Floyd’s perspective, Floyd has only bit parts in 100 Years, barely glimpsed on the sidelines. Here, the story is told by and from the perspective of Deaps, complete with his own style and way of speaking. Whereas TSMG was decidedly post-apocalyptic science fiction, 100 Years crosses bridges between literary fiction and science fiction, bringing it into the realm of Slipstream, although perhaps maybe not as surreal in feel as that label would imply.
One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is not an action-packed adventure you can race through in a single evening (at least, not easily). The story reads slowly, like classic literary fiction. Much like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, readers follow along with what is basically a conversation between two people remembering long lives passed. In this book, though, Kohana plays something of a dual role, both the Ghost of Christmas Past and Scrooge at once, and Deaps is Scrooge as well. The characters themselves reference the tale a number of times, bringing a touch of humor to a dark story of war, murder and lost loves.
Bergen has taken the short time between his two novels to really hone his writing. The pace of One Hundred Years of Vicissitude may be slow, but it is consistent, and the writing is always clear and concise. Even when characters are jumping from one point in time to another, the flow of the story never falters, and readers are treated to a lot of little-known facts about Japanese history set in fictional tone. This, friends, is what good literary fiction reads like.
As in his previous novel, Bergen continues to drop little things for readers familiar with his life and work to find – a book here, a character there, an allusion to his recording company. Much like Stephen King’s many cameo appearances, discovering one of these little nuggets always adds a little fun to the story, even if it isn’t really part of the story itself.
The most important message One Hundred Years of Vicissitude delivers is one of change. No matter how much or how often we think our lives will never improve or change, change is the one thing that is inevitable. We are born, we grow, we experience the world around us as we age. We form and lose relationships. We experience joys and pains, and we die. Nothing ever stays the same. This is the very nature of being human, and being part of this world. Nothing lasts forever, and the longer you live, the more you go out and experience life, the more changes you will see in your lifetime. Here, too, lies the admonition to value our elders, not just for who they are in and of themselves, but for what they’ve experienced in their own lifetimes, the things they’ve seen and done that we may have never known about.
All in all, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is a wonderful tale of the lives of two people, intersecting and intertwining in unexpected places. It is a tale of the things they’ve seen and done in their lives, and their attempts at growth and understanding. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys literary fiction, particularly of the Dickensian slant; fans of A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities will find much to love here.