Bridge of Sand Does a writer exist who can surpass this author's eye? It would be stupid of me to answer that but it's a pleasant and apt conjecture. As an author I can only take pleasure in her gift and recommend the pleasure. It's a pleasure only reading can give and only reading literature -- which is what this author's work is and has always been. If you think "Literature" equals "dull," in this case think it not: she writes like gee whiz!
Bridge of Sand is a romance. It's not a romance novel, but it is a story of desire piqued and vexed by separation. Dana, a recently widowed white Pennsylvania woman in her late thirties, returns to the Georgia town where she was reared, and looks up Huston, a fellow classmate she barely knew. An affair begins. He is already separated from his wife. He is Negro.
After a threat from Huston's to-be-ex, Dana leaves town. But she waits for Huston at a rendezvous on the coast of Florida. And thus the suspense of romance begins and by it is sustained.
With a darling ear for what is said, Janet Burroway brings up into life every Southern type Dana encounters. Her ear for the quirk of common parlance sets you right in place and in the moment. The place is The South and is also one of affectionate satire. So that's another pleasure in reading her: her awakeness to the humor in how we Americans speak.
But the over-arching pleasure is that the intelligence of the writer (and this is true of all Burroway's work) is at one with the intelligence of the heroine. And so we spend our time in bright company and with a woman (Dana Cleveland/Janet Burroway) of wit, curiosity, daring. We spend our time watching out for her as she wends her way into unknown and unexpected territories of lust and land. We spend our time in the company of the recognizable vulnerability love is in all of us. But best of all, we spend our time hand in hand with a brilliance of sensibility that raises and enlivens and complements our own.
Bridge of Sand also takes us to an exotic land. Many of Janet Burroway's novels do this. A girl from Maryland finds herself in Arizona in Cutting Stone; in Raw Silk the heroine comes from California and lives in England; in Opening Nights she comes from Iowa and lives out her story in Georgia. And here a girl from Pennsylvania finds herself on the west coast of Florida. For the difference of Pennsylvania to Florida is as extreme as a cliff from a prairie, and we Americans have many of us experienced just such exotic intra-national transportations. Bridge of Sand once again brings us the pleasure of that exact dislocation. We Americans are always moving to some strange place that is not home, fixing to wonder: can it ever become home?
Janet Burroway is a master of setting. This mastery has a two fold pleasure folded together like a pastry: these first and second folds are (1) her keen and funny love of what is actually there in our America and (2) how her skill in rendering that awakens in one a keen and funny love of what is actually there. If you think you knew Florida and even if you didn't, you didn't know how well you knew it until you read Burroway's excruciatingly droll renderings of it.
Bridge of Sand also brings to brilliant life the folks who inhabit it. She is able to do this sixteen different ways, all of them witty, all of them telling, and all of them needed. The magisterially pious uncle who appears, with his monopoly on God and his altitudinous utterance, is as priceless a comic creation as anything in Twain. And Burroway does this over and over again. The villainess of the piece is rendered in dialogue that is devastatingly, Americanly funny. One knows this woman from the author's descriptions and from the way she allows the character to sink herself with her own verbal torpedoes. Burroway's ability to capture the solidarity and solitude of Negro patois amazed me. The pleasure of reading dialogue of this measure of skill is what this novelist has brought to us in novel after novel over the years.
Well, these are the pleasures of reading Burroway literature and of being part of the Burroway following.
For I'm a fan -- how can I hide it from you? Which means I am enchanted. I recommend the enchantment. Enchanted, I am helpless not to.
Bruce Moody Author of Will Work For Food or $
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I was quickly caught up in the life of the main character, Dana, and ready to travel with her as she recreated her life. Each character felt true, engaging, and particular. I loved the enactment of friendship between Dana and Phoebe, who is the voice of reason and comfort throughout the novel. I felt Dana's passion, her disappointments, and her resilience as she struggles to find community, meaningful work, and commitment in her life.
Dana's story alone is worth the read, but we also discover a finely wrought exploration of racial tensions in the south. This exploration is never generalized, exaggerated, or preachy. It is simply part and parcel of the life of these people, in these times, in this place.
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My greatest joy in a Burroway book is meeting the characters and getting to know them. This book is a great example of this.
Dana is burying her husband, a man she was preparing to divorce, on 9/11.
This lead character, her best friend Phoebe, her husband, her childhood crush Cassius - all are fully realized, allowing the desire, wistfulness and anxiety of the story to be so much more real. Throw in great locations throughout the northeast, the south, and the coast of Florida, timely headlines ripped from local newspapers, a fully articulated race and culture clash, and this book is hard to put down.
If you like Bridge of Sand, check out Burroway's 1993 novel Cutting Stone, set partially in southeastern Arizona - also a fully satisfying read.
This is what I would call a literary novel, by which I mean that the writing is almost poetic in places and the descriptions are rich and full of meaning. I don't read a lot of literary novels because I write books that are more stripped down where I let the dialogue define the characters more than description, so I tend to read the same type of novels for comparison to my work.
Having said that, I enjoyed this book immensely most of the time. Her dialogue is very good, and the characters and plot, though seemingly very straightforward, are more complex than they seem. A professional review on this Amazon webpage criticizes the author for using the September 11 tragedy for her own "ghoulish" purpose and states it would be a better book without all that detail. I don't know that I agree. The book opens with Dana attending her husband's funeral and she can actually see the curling smoke from the crash of Flight 93 there in Pennsylvania. She draws some interesting correlation between that tragedy and her own personal loss, and I think it works most of the time. Once in a while the references to 9/11 seem shoehorned into the story, but a lot of the time it works in a study of death and loss. It helps build her own sense of grieving, not because she loved her husband so deeply, but because she didn't and only stayed with him because he was dying.
Embedded in this story also is a believable and intriguing examination of her relationship, as a white woman, with a black man, a man who has emotional baggage so different from her own as to make them unable to understand each other at times. The story dragged a little for me when Dana sets up in the Florida panhandle and helps a man out by running his store for him. There is a slow build-up of awareness in what the lay of the landscape was, the history of the people she meets. I won't say I was ever even tempted to stop reading, but I did set it down a few times and read something else for a while. (It seems I am always reading more than one book at once anyway.)
Another distraction is a tour that Dana takes of a recycling plant where her man works. On one level it seems to be in the book because the author did a lot of research on the subject. Dana even runs into the man who gave her the tour later in the book and that meeting seems to mean nothing to the plot. But the tour does lead to her running across her man, and as this is a literary work, I wouldn't be surprised if there are ramifications to the experience that I didn't catch at all. (I am not dense, but for me a novel is mostly about plot and dialogue, what happens and what they say - inner meanings and metaphors aren't high on my list.)
But my beef with the story is minor - this is at its heart a finely crafted and realistic story of a complicated and socially awkward relationship. Living here in the south as I do now, I would recommend it to any chick lit book group out there. The discussions might prove quite interesting and revealing to the participants.
It's not everyday that I read a contemporary novel that satisfies me and nourishes me as fully as Janet Burroway's BRIDGE OF SAND. As a reader, I value complexity of characterization and social milieu. I appreciate what characters come to understand about themselves and their choices -- and the ways in which they are creatures of history, culture and their human frailties.
BRIDGE OF SAND revolves around Dana, a 40 year old white woman, newly widowed after a disappointing marriage to a US Senator. Desperate for a new and dense taste of life, she falls in love with Cassius, a black factory worker whom she knew slightly as a teenager. After their initial passion (in Virginia), Dana retreats to the West Coast of Florida, where an aunt of Cassius lives, to wait for a signal from her lover. Through a combination of accident and choice, she takes over Solly's Corner, a small town general store. In that unlikely role, among whites and blacks of varied social backgrounds, she constructs her world.
I love Dana's gumption and acts of devotion to the new people around her. I resonate to her uncertainties about belonging and the power of feeling. I resonate to her sturdy friendship with Phoebe, a smart lawyer from her former life in Pennsylvania - - and to the importance of shared frames of reference as a basis for friendship. I also resonate to the bond she forges with Trudy, Cassius' aunt, who had been the lover of the white owner of the general store. The human landscape of Solly's Corner is vivid, fresh, and at moments heart-stopping. The physical landscape --including the sun scorched beach and a home-wrecking tornado - - reverberates powerfully in this environment of surprise, comfort and disorder.
Dana, pregnant with Cassius' child, whom she vows to raise with Trudy's help, signals that we have moved into Obama Time. Cassius, after a doomed visit with Dana, makes his way West, reminding us that we are are not yet in Post Racial America. But we are in a transitional moment, with the old racial fears and suspicions in new forms, with healing and no healing.
The wisdom of Burroway's novel is in the recognition of limitations. Dana and Cassius are circumscribed by earlier choices but not defeated. Dana can embrace her bi-racial child even though Cassius will be out of the picture. Cassius can embrace freedom from his crazy wife and narrow community of blacks as long as he doesn't sacrifice his young daughter (who rejected Dana the moment she saw her). Dana's unborn child and Cassius' four year old have parallel paths to more liberated American futures. But each requires sacrifices by a loving adult. Dana and Cassius cannot have it all. None of us can have it all -- assuming we know what "all" is. All is hubris. All is ridiculous. Making peace with less than all is grace -- and graceful.
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It took me just a bit to warm up to this book because I didn't understand the attraction to Cassius. However, I have to say that this was one of the best books I have read. Even though it is just over 300 pages, it feels like a saga. The characters are real and certainly not perfect. The author's style is wonderful even though sometimes she takes a bit of literary license with vocabulary. This is fine because I like to be challenged when I read. I thought her research into the mills, pianos and Florida strata added a level to this book. I really loved the main character, Trudy, Bernadette, Herbie, Luther and even Adena. This book explores racism in the most basic terms. It is not a big movement but rather explored on a one to one basis through real people. The author's use of commonplace situations (fishing, clerking in a store, dining with the locals, etc.) to explore the human side helped make this book very warm. I ended up really feeling attached to the characters and wondering where they will go in their lives. Thank you for a wonderful trip and I hope to see these characters again.
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I was lucky enough to meet Janet Burroway at a writer's conference in Madison, Wisconsin early this year, and I possess a signed copy of Bridge of Sand proudly displayed on my bookshelf. This is a story I fell right into from the first few pages recalling 9/11 and the confusion and sorrow, juxtaposed against the private drama of a funeral.
Ms. Burroway writes to a high standard to keep the reader alert and interested; keep a dictionary nearby for the rogue vocabulary words sprinkled throughout her prose.
Other reviews detailed the story line, so I will simply say: sit back and enjoy the read. I hope she's working on something new...