Review – Karen Sel ls Brown

January 30th, 2010

Robert N. Lawson has carefully constructed a novel in which the form is as essential as that of the finely crafted sonnets with which he introduces each chapter. The story is framed by a meeting at an idyllic cabin in California. Jack, a playwright, is the analytical observer and also one of the central characters whose lives cross and re-cross in liaisons of passion and power.

Choices, the crossing of bridges, shape Lawson’s complex characters. The struggle between the academic and the actor, the observer and the doer, is at the heart of the novel. Should Jack take his show on the road or settle down in the academic life at a small college in Nebraska? Should he act, direct, teach, write? Jack has finally come from Japan to make sense of what happened to the woman who was the star of his life.

The “idea of Betty” dominates the novel and the men in her life. Jack has met her as a young college girl and starred her in the play he was directing, married her, and had a child, Christine, with her. But Betty yearns to test her talent in New York theater and in Hollywood, where she succeeds beyond her dreams.

Betty is seen in many starring roles, but never as herself. She takes on, becomes, the role she plays and carries that role into all their lives. Early on, the power of the drama in the lives of the characters is uncanny, and the stuff of dreams is woven inexorably toward the tragic end foreshadowed by the traditional form of the Japanese drama. Dreams, in all their manifestations from the haunting ghosts to Freudian analysis to the youthful expectations of Christine, lead from painful past to future possibilities.

Lawson’s knowledge and love of the classics, drama, and Japanese literature inform his characters, particularly the countess who serves as their mentor, a role central to the psyche of Lawson himself. Bridge of Dreams is a welcome intellectual challenge to read, explore connections, and pursue dreams.