Review – Larry McGurn

January 30th, 2010

Following a pattern just as strict—and just a fruitful in that strictness—as the sonnets that open each chapter, Bridge of Dreams covers a wide range of emotional, geographic and chronological territory. It traces the early and mid-life history of Jack, the ever-observant narrator, as his life is impacted by the powerful women who enter it. These women include the beautiful actress, Betty, who as a student of Jack’s, first begins to understand and exercise the power of her sexuality; Laura, the plain spoken and plain thinking companion who herself ends up in the entertainment industry; Christine, the young woman we watch grow from infancy to adulthood; and finally, the intriguing Countess, whose life story is an open doorway onto the Japanese culture and literary tradition.

The novel in its entirety is a celebration of culture and the richness of the interaction between the individual spirit and the artifacts of culture (chiefly literary). Each chapter finds its theme framed, identified, altered, and sometimes ironically commented upon, by the plays and stories that in addition further the plot (for instance, Betty first comes to our and Jack’s attention in the play Pygmalion when it seems for a short while that Jack may be able to direct and shape Betty’s life to his liking). Each of the 24 chapters is likewise associated with a work of art, from Hamlet to The Black Cat, from the classical English tradition to the classical Japanese tradition, from the festive to the ominous. Each work casts its shadow over the chapter it is associated with, in a manner reminiscent of Joyce’s Ulysses.

The novel just as surely presents a mural of American life in the rich middle years of the American century, from 1955 to 1975. It is an accurate and evocative re-viewing of the several jarring eras compacted into that time frame. The reader who wishes to know more of suburban life in the late 50s or the means and methods of vacationing during that period could do worse than to read Chapters 6 and 9.

All novels start with a scheme, an outline, a structure. It is in the expert weaving of character, event, description, and the supple use of language with that structure that art emerges. Bridge of Dreams is notable for the expert interpenetration of a quite defined structure and the riches of narrative contained within that structure. Other works of art—The Divine Comedy, Ulysses, Lolita, Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—are noted fro the elegance of their design. But just as with these others, Bridge of Dreams is best met not in the essay describing it, but in the reading chair under a good light. My advice to you? Read Bridge of Dreams and be prepared for a true literary experience.

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