Review – Roy Lacousiere

This is an unusual novel by a de jure if not de facto retired English professor.

There is an appendix of assignments for each of the 24 chapters of 20 pages

filled to the last line. (In the appendix, but not in The Table of Contents, he

calls the chapters bridges, one of several meanings of the title’s term.) The

assignments direct the reader to many texts and performances of the usual

Western canon, but also introduce the reader to multiple Japanese texts,

especially plays, as does the story itself. The pre-eminent text is The Tale of

Genji, before which the modest author bows: “I don’t even mind (much) if the

reader decides to read Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji …instead of reading

this novel.” For most authors this thought is a nightmare.


But it was this tale that had me turning pages. Betty Fredericks and Jordan

Simms dead side-by-side. A double suicide? What were the circumstances? Blind

Henry Gordon and his obliging Japanese companion, Shoko, provide a quasi Greek

chorus at a cabin as narrator Jack Curtis goes back 20 years to the story’s

beginnings. At a university auditioning site where slightly older Jack is

preparing Pygmalion, there descends unannounced the enticing, confident student

aspirant “quintessential Betty, the novice entering the temple where she was

destined to reign as high priestess.” While he, Henry and Shoko recount the

complex story, there are unknown boaters on the lake whose anticipated arrival

is part of a “surprise” Henry has arranged. Our curiosity about the deaths,

Henry’s blindness and the surprise will be kept in abeyance until near the end

of the almost 500 pages.


Jack is quickly hooked by capricious muse Betty. Dramatic presentations become

confounded with the characters’ lives. Pre-opening of The Scarlet Letter Hester

Prynne-Betty has a sexual liaison with hesitant Jack, and perhaps by then also

with others. Betty’s pregnancy leads to marriage with appreciative Jack, and

child Christine. None of this holds ambitious Betty, who soon abandons husband

and child for New York stages. Her peregrinations, and that of multiple other

characters—Laura, who in the earlier years lacks the muse potency of Petrarch’s

Laura for the narrator; Tom, a campus then professional football hero and brief

romantic interest of Betty, then Laura; Countess Natasha Rostovna; and many

more. And several more deaths.


Underscoring the author’s love of the literary world, the titles of the many

mentioned works are printed boldface. These works form one of the bridges

connecting the characters to life, like Betty, then the Countess, are a bridge

for the narrator for his writing and directing. The fabled nature of the novel

becomes more obvious as the mystical older Countess-cum philosopher embodies too

much wisdom and a life story—mixed real and fantasized—that incorporates much of

Western culture and modern history. By way of a film of her life, she, Betty,

Jack and others will transform her shadowy world into an idealized immortal one.

If the Countess needed more sagacious emphasizing, it is provided when she ends

her ailing aged life with hemlock.


While the story moves along, blind Henry, who nourishes the story, and the

longtime boating lake-farers, remind one of Homer and Odysseus’ voyage; after

425 pages Laura and Christine arrive at the cabin from the lake. The wait is

longer for the explanation of Betty’s and Jordan’s death, and for Jack to see

the ungraspableness of his muse. During all this fore-story baby and childhood

Christ-ine, without a human whimper, has been sacrificed to (her mother’s) art,

but she resurrects into a more realistic adolescence to become the new

priestess. 


By now it is obvious that the primary bridge is the one incarnated in the

author, his love of the (ideal) world of literature and theatre that he’s been

sharing with us. Margaret Atwood considers fiction writing Negotiating with the

Dead, but here Robert Lawson provides these Dead with a bridge to where death

has no dominion.


                            Roy Lacoursiere, July 1, 2010.