The Other Side of the Bridge

Two brothers who are locked in a bitter rivalry from their earliest years.  A beautiful married woman who becomes the object of a young boy’s sexual obsession.  A depressed mother who cannot endure her harsh environment and subsequently abandons her family.

These are some of the compelling characters who inhabit Mary Lawson’s emotional 2006 novel, The Other Side of the Bridge, which my library book group discussed recently.  The group members were in total agreement about Lawson’s keen ability to create interesting people and situations.  Almost every person in the story is haunted by some form of guilt, which provided great fodder for discussion.  The group also liked her vivid descriptions of rural Canada, where the novel is set.

One intriguing aspect of the book is that it plays out in two different time periods — the 1930s and the 1950s — in alternating chapters, almost as if they were occurring simultaneously.  Thus, the characters are shown in both the past and the present, as the story moves forward.  Adding to the interest of this literary device is the use of two points of view — both male, which is an unusual choice for a female author.

In the earlier episodes, the focus is on a boy named Arthur, who performs poorly in school and feels deeply inferior to his clever younger brother,  Jake.  He also hides a crucial secret from his parents that involves Jake’s reckless behavior.  Years later, Arthur has grown up to become a competent and hard-working farmer whose wife, Laura, draws the interest of another young boy, Ian, when he comes to work on the farm.  From Ian’s troubled perspective, readers learn about the problems and conflicts of Arthur’s family; and then, when Jake reappears at the farm, edging close to Laura, Ian finds himself playing a significant part in disrupting the lives of all of these people.

A few years ago, the book group read and talked about Lawson’s highly praised first novel, Crow Lake, and the discussion was both lively and thought-provoking.  She seems to be an author who can tell stories that involve readers deeply and make them want to share their reactions.  We’re looking forward to her next book.

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About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

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