on August 23, 2007
There will be debate about which is the better book, Mary Lawson's first novel, Crow Lake, or this second, The Other Side of the Bridge. Both are quite well-written, engaging, readable, and memorable enough that I wanted my own copies to re-read, having initially read library copies. If I had to declare one better, it would be The Other Side of the Bridge, as more fully realized from start to finish. The characters are believably alive and humanly real, and what happens in their lives is equally believable. I'm sometimes reminded of Willa Cather, who created people I might have known in a setting unfamiliar to me. I'm looking forward to Mary Lawson's next novel.
From childhood, Arthur Dunn is burdened by his size and doleful personality. Living on a farm in remote Struan, in northern Canada, Arthur and his younger brother, Jake, make an uneasy peace with their differences: "Jake was a subtle bully, a devious bully." Jake has been blessed with a sunny personality, articulate and charismatic, his mother's blessing, a shining son with a world of promise ahead. In contrast, Arthur toils beside his father on the farm, but suffers the ignominy of a sluggish mind through years of school he endures for his mother's sake. A pivotal moment occurs between the brothers when Jake suffers a terrible accident, certainly his own fault, yet weight of blame shifts to Arthur, who can barely comprehend his own confused reaction: "He felt breathless with a kind of excitement, made up in equal parts of rage and retribution."
Thereafter a spirit of enmity grows between Jake and Arthur, one that will poison their relationship and inextricably tie them to the past. What began as a sly one-upmanship on Jake's part accelerates to a campaign, their mother Jake's unwitting pawn. As reliable as a farm animal, Arthur is predictable in every respect, unquestioning, obedient and focused on the survival of the family farm. Falling in love with the preacher's daughter, Laura is Arthur's undoing; as soon as the handsome, charming Jake realizes Arthur's predicament, the die is cast. Buffeted by economic insecurity and the devastation of a world war, the brothers act out their roles as if the terrible conclusion is preordained.
Arthur survives, his back bent to the work at hand. True to his nature, Arthur cleans up his brother's wreckage, yet is of little comfort to the mother casually devastated by Jake's two-line goodbye note. Years later, a local young man, Ian Christopherson, son of the town's only doctor, begins working for Arthur, driven in part by an adolescent attraction to Laura, the boy the unwitting catalyst in the novel's powerful denouement. When Jake returns after a long absence, Ian is drawn to his easy affability, at the same time, comforted by Arthur's steadiness, unaware that he is a critical cog in the unfolding drama.
Lawson speaks the language of that murky territory beneath the external lives of her characters, digging into the tortured dynamics of two brothers with different needs, a woman caught in the excitement of first love, a young man running away from his future and a country decimated by the loss of sons in war. Unable to act on his instincts, Arthur resists a primal knowledge, sheathed in fear, while Jake is unerring in destroying his brother's dreams. Lawson is an astute observer of family dynamics and the instantaneous decisions that alter the future, a vast wheel turning inexorably toward resolution and a shattering conclusion. Luan Gaines/2006.
on November 17, 2006
This, Mary Lawson's second novel (her worthy) first is Crow Lake), is a flat-out stunner. A story quietly told but laden with tension and anxiety, beauty and depth. It will stay with me for a long time. It is sure to be my list of year's best reads. Will be giving it to friends over the holidays, too.
on October 13, 2007
We are far away in Northern Canada, in the small town of Struan. The life is rough, tough and simple. Or so it seems. We are in the years before, during and after World War 2, and we follow the lives of brothers Arthur and Jake, and Ian, son of the town's respected doctor. Arthur is the older brother to Jake, and their relationship has been bad almost since before Jake was born. Arthur is the one who works hard and who does his chores without complaining and without asking why he has to them. Arthur thinks a lot, doesn't talk much and hates going to school. Jake is the younger brother who is not all pleasant and nice. He doesn't like to work, not too hard anyway, he is quick and smart and he grows up to be a regular ladies man.
When World War 2 begins, neither of the brothers enlist, for different reasons, but they stay at home, while their friends go overseas to fight. Arthur devotes his time to farming and thinking and feeling guilty, while Jake seems to celebrate life by sleeping with as many girls as he can, drink and have fun.
The brothers never really find each other, and specially Arthur is consumed by guilt and thoughts, until they are both grown up, and the high school kid Ian enters their world. Or enters Arthur's world. Ian is at a point in his life where he needs to find out what he wants to do with the rest of it, and while thinking about this, he goes to work for Arthur on the farm he inherited from his parents. Jake is long gone, and life goes on in a quiet way. Until Jake suddenly surfaces again, and Ian senses that there is something more behind his visit than just feelings for the good ole family.
The story moves between the childhood of Arthur and Jake over, their youth during World War 2 and the 'present day', which in this story is the 1950'es and 60'es. The story moves slowly, and much of the things happening, is happening in the minds of Arthur and Ian. The story moved a little too slow for this reader, but is wonderfully written, with good character-development and wonderful descriptions of nature, wind, weather etc.
on February 13, 2007
..and was finally rewarded with this beautiful book. And no, it's not quite as wonderful as Crow Lake, but darn close.
I have always been angered by the parable of the Prodigal Son, wondering why the son who stayed at home was less important, less valued than the son who went away. This book explores that old parable and sets it on its ear. I won't bother with a plot synopsis, because others have already done that. I will talk about the difficult task the writer has set for herself. She tells a large part of this story from the viewpoint of the least interesting character, Arthur. Such is her gift that even though we are seeing the world through the dumbfounded eyes of the good son who remains on the farm, we still understand the pain and complexity of the emotional life swirling around him, even though it is almost completely lost on Arthur. I'm not quite sure how Lawson carried it off, but I can say that if you loved Crow Lake, you will not be disappointed.
on April 27, 2007
Mary Lawson is a remarkable storyteller - her two novels to date are superb. She has a straightforward style but as other reviewers have noted there are moments of great poetry. Her subtle use of language is in keeping with the broad, open, evocative landscape she describes. She is truly an author whose works I wish were twice as long as they are. How well she has understood the rivalry at the basis of this story! And how carefully she has balanced the twin generational timelines, the shocking effects of war on a small community, the daily grind of farm labour. She is most certainly a major writer, one to watch.
on February 2, 2013
Usually when you describe a book as 'riveting' it's a thriller about spies or murder mysteries. Mary Lawson's THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRIDGE is neither, but it is as riveting a read as I've run across in quite a while. I bought the book because I'd so enjoyed her first novel CROW LAKE, which was simply superb. (I use that phrase, 'simply superb,' whenever I really like a book. So, sorry if you've seen it before, but it fits.) Well so is this one; in fact it might even be a bit better than her first. I kept thinking of Cain and Abel, or Essau and Jacob, but neither biblical parallel rally quite fits. Because Arthur and Jake are unique characters, and I know I won't soon forget them. And then there is Laura too, a beautifully drawn character, who also acts as a catalyst, who creates all that tension. And Ian, who is witness to everything and, later, participant. And I'm telling you right now, when you get down to those final pages, you will be wincing, because you've gotten to know these characters, and you just know there will be pain, there will be hurt, there will be - there IS - real genuine tragedy. And yet Lawson gives you some comfort in the epilogue.
This is a story, set against the war years in Canada and also 10-15 years after the war. It plays like Greek tragedy, RIVETING Greek tragedy. Mary Lawson is a great writer. I'll be watching for her next book.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
on September 28, 2013
It's so odd, I'm just 50 pages along in this book and have quickly realized that Mary Lawson is a wonderful writer--and I'm a voracious, lifelong (and long lived) reader. I came across the book inadvertently and had never heard of Crow Lake so I was curious to know more about the writer. Yesterday I looked at her page on Amazon and saw she'd only written the two books--and hadn't published anything for six years. I worried that such a gifted author had possibly stopped writing for one reason or another. Then when I came back today to express my praise for her talent, I saw Amazon had listed the advance notice for her new book, Road Ends. Hurrah--two more to look forward to! Without even finishing, with only this first taste of Mary Lawson's graceful, exacting prose, I know I'll want to read them all. The extended time between her books may only be the sign of a true perfectionist.
on March 30, 2007
After reading, Lawson's Crow Lake, immediately I started over just to fellowship again with the characters, to love and hate them all over again. Even more compelling, her second novel, The Other Side of the Bridge, evoked a similar response: to live with them again in their unique landscape, and to come into a mysterious and wonderful union with the north, the farm, the edge of civilization, the small town, the native presence, the ghosts of love and hate, the peace that gradually comes from being home, the the ambition to get away, and how one character impacts another in uplifting and destructive ways. How does it all turn out? is a question that remains on a number of levels.
on May 23, 2016
Having recently read Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, I immediately purchased two more of her books. I'm impressed with the honesty and integrity with which this author weaves another earthy, gritty and realistic look at family relationships and friendship. Having grown up in a rural area, I could relate to the plights of farmers and the challenges they endured. This author has done her research and shared the hardships and family dynamics of rural life with credibility. Generations build upon one another in this haunting tale of the human condition.
There is incredible depth throughout this compelling story of dysfunctional families, sibling rivalry, friendships, jealousy and so much more. The description of the Canadian countryside is pictorial and vivid through Lawson's imagery. The characters portrayed are convincing and plausible.
I highly recommend The Other Side of the Bridge! It's a book that you won't want to put down. It will tug at your heartstrings and open your mind to a time in history that was oppressive for many.