penelope and bumblebee

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Penelope's Reading List

I was excited to get my hands on Mary Lawson’s sophomore novel, following the greatly successful Crow Lake. Lawson had emerged as a writer who was able to paint a poignant, beautifully simple picture, replete with sympathetic protagonists and a zest for recalling small-town Canadian life.

The Other Side of the Bridge does not disappoint. Proving herself to be more than a one-hit wonder, Bridge takes readers back to small-town Canadiana, with a beautifully woven tale of a burdened farming family during two distinct eras in Canadian history.

Through parallel storylines we follow the lives of the inhabitants of the fictional town of Straun. The earlier, taking place from the 1930s through WWII, introduces us to the Dunn family, and the archetypal Cain and Abel struggle for domination by two vastly different brothers, Arthur and Jake. An unfortunate series of events befalls the brothers and sets the tone for the second, later storyline, where highschooler/doctor’s son Ian Christopherson takes over storytelling duties and begins working for Arthur following the sudden departure of his mother and an ensuing identity crisis. The story’s climactic pinnacle comes when prodigal son Jake returns home and both brothers must face the painful truth of how each of their lives had led to this moment.

Lawson’s tale offers nuggets from deep within the archives of time. The arrival of German POWs, who are immediately put to work as farmhands, for instance, offers a rich look into forgotten details of what life was like ‘on the home front’ in rural Canada during the war. It is surprising then, that with such details carefully intact, Lawson uses what I can only describe as a cheap plot device to write herself out of awkward situations. The most glaring was the glossing-over of a long-awaited reunion between Arthur and Jake. How would two characters that had historically viewed each other with animosity handle an inevitably emotional moment? Well, I don’t know either as, conveniently, the narrator looked away at the exact moment of embrace. However, that I was so invested in the character’s motivations as to be disappointed by such omissions is perhaps another testament to the overall strength of Lawson’s fiction.

The Other Side of the Bridge deals eloquently with the stuff that lies just below the surface of our everyday demeanours. I will eagerly wait for whatever Lawson offers next; hopefully she will continue to gain courage and voice as a writer, and to continue to sift ever deeper into the well of storytelling.


  • At 6:55 PM, Blogger Haley-O said…

    I'd like to read Crow Lake still.... I'm trying to read The Time Traveller's Wife. I'm such a bad reader lately, though....Too much TV to watch and eyes are too tired by the time I have time to read!! :( How do you find the time?

  • At 7:02 PM, Blogger metro mama said…

    Sounds interesting. I haven't read Crow Lake yet either, but it's on my (long) list.

  • At 10:48 PM, Blogger penelopeto said…

    Haley - trust me, no reading gets done at home. the best thing i can say about going back to work is that i have a blissful hour everyday to sit on the subway and read. (as long as i stay awake, that is!)

  • At 12:14 AM, Blogger crazymumma said…

    I loved Crow Lake...

  • At 12:17 AM, Blogger something blue said…

    You have peaked my interest. It sounds like she is a gifted writer.

  • At 2:53 AM, Anonymous krista said…

    I liked Crow Lake too. I wrote a little review on my site of it somewhere (if you are intereseted ask me and I'll send you the link)

    I hadn't heard that she had come out with a new book. Thanks for the tip.

  • At 5:17 PM, Anonymous mamatulip said…

    Definitely an author I'm going to check out now.


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