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To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder Paperback – January 1, 2019
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“Rommelmann employs compassion and emotional honesty in her investigation to try to comprehend the motivations behind the crime and its aftermath.” —Publishers Weekly
“A painstaking and meticulous exploration of all the facts and conjectures surrounding a disturbing case.” —Kirkus Reviews
“[To the Bridge] is a remarkable work: not a whodunit but an inquiry into why. Rommelmann doesn’t find an easy solution, but neither does she settle for platitudes about the unknowability of the human heart.” —Willamette Week
“A painstaking and meticulous exploration of all the facts and conjectures surrounding a disturbing case.” —Willamette Week
“What is particularly engaging isn’t so much the crime but Rommelmann’s look at why Stott-Smith did what she did.” —Bustle
“What is offered…is a chance to understand the why and a real examination of how we hold killers accountable, but not always all those responsible. True crime readers or anyone interested in compelling nonfiction will find this an interesting read leaving them with a lot to think about long after they finish the book.” —Independent Publisher
“An emotionally honest, meticulous examination of a confluence of circumstances that culminated in a deadly act, and the complicity of our own city and culture in its aftermath.” —Portland Monthly
“…Rommelmann’s research and attention to detail often lead her to write sentences that feel like literary short stories all on their own…The book does usefully complicate a story that seemed, on its face, uncomplicated or impenetrable to many, helpfully reminding us to resist jumping to conclusions, even when the villain seems easy to spot.” —The Stranger
“In To the Bridge, Nancy Rommelmann takes what many consider the most unforgivable of crimes—a mother set on murdering her own children—and delivers something thoughtful and provocative: a deeply reported, sensitively told, all-too-relevant tragedy of addiction and codependency, toxic masculinity, and capricious justice. You won’t be able to look away—nor should any of us.” —Robert Kolker, New York Times bestselling author of Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery
“Rommelmann’s investigation…manages to be both a tonic meditation on the limits of knowledge and a bracing defense of its pursuit.” —Reason, “The Best of 2018”
“How do you understand the not understandable and forgive the unforgivable? So asks one of the characters in this clear-eyed investigation into something we all turn away from. To the Bridge is a tour de force of both journalism and compassion, in the lineage of such masterpieces as In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song. Word by word, sentence by sentence, Rommelmann’s writing is that good. And so is her heart.” —Nick Flynn, PEN/Martha Albrand Award–winning author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
About the Author
Nancy Rommelmann has written for the LA Weekly, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times, among other publications. She is the author of several previous works of nonfiction and fiction. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. Find out more at nancyromm.com.
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This story was incredible, and from 50% on I literally couldn't put the book down. And that was also the point at which I stopped trying to guess who I'd end up the most angry at, or where I'd place the most blame... Mostly because with each new piece of the story, everything shifted.
What a wrenching experience. I have never once thought to myself that I'd reread a true crime novel, but I'll reread at least the last half of this book again, and then maybe again. It was utterly gripping, and wove together emotion, truth, and conjecture into a story that will stick with me for a very, VERY long time!
I am fine with a book that has a sad ending. I am not happy with a book with an incomplete ending.
Now for the other main problem I had with this book: the writing. Miss Rommelmann has written many books and articles over the years, but you'd never know it. She jumps from 1st & 3rd person frequently- I can excuse chapter to chapter or when she stated the crime and events the day of at the beginning of the book- but my issue was how quickly it would change without a segway. There are flashbacks (which may or may not deal with this case) that interrupt the main story. Half of the time when someone is speaking, there aren't quotation marks. Sometimes when she is taking with someone there are no quotation marks and it reads like a thought. Conversations and thoughts should be written differently. The timeline of things leading up to the crime is jumbled. And half-way though the book she spends several pages talking about a completely different crime. She rewrites the story of the crime with just a teeny bit more detail at least 3 times. I stopped counting after a while. It's poorly written and I'm mad that I wasted my time on it.
Okay, there is a specific reason this tale struck home. That reason is part of the explanation as to why I am so moved. Other, even more telling reasons, concern two close relatives of mine (remaining anonymous for now) who wreaked horrific nightmares upon their children. Perhaps few living people can appreciate my deep understanding for the combined effects of drugs and sex within American society…
Due to an uncanny set of ironies, part of me wanted to resist reading this story. Because of those ironies, I found that I HAD to read this book. A paradox similar to a something in Stephen King’s most recent novel, “The Outsider.” ‘CAN’T MUST.’
Let me explain. The first irony is that I recollect bits of this true story from the weeks just before my wife and I moved from our home near Portland, Oregon to North Dakota in June, 2009. That, however, is not the more chilling coincidence.
Today, our church is hosting a funeral for another child murdered by his mother. The young son of a chiropractor was tossed from a hotel room in New York, and followed by his mother. His uncle is my chiropractor here and his grandmother did a story about a bakery I once started in town. So, yes, this story comes about as close to home as any nightmare I might wish to endure.
What I mean is, it boggles the mind to know that this true story about a woman tossing two of her children into a river (one died) is available to read on the very day that a local friend’s nephew, who was killed in much the same way, is being buried in my adopted home town. I was at work, 25 miles away, so could not attend the funeral with my wife. I guess, in a spiritual sense, I am taking part in that funeral by grieving over the facts of another murder?
I trust readers of this review will not be too put off by my introduction, but I do feel I must put this true story review into perspective.
BLUSH FACTOR Aside from the profane nature of the topic itself, the number of spoken profanities is not excessive. Still, the few f-words might concern a few people who might choose to read it to a child or a fellow member of the church book club.
WHAT GRABBED MY ATTENTION As nonfiction, this reads much more as though it were a novel. Good flow, the sort of grammar that rings true to the ear. The writer spends a good deal of effort in setting the scene.
WHAT PERPLEXED ME Maybe this is because I write reviews the way this author writes this book. She tends to explain herself in the story. For me, it interrupts the flow of the work, much as some review readers tell me my reviews do. [Mental note: consider reducing my interjection of self into reviews.]
IS THERE ANY HUMOR IN THIS DARK TALE Yes. I pops up at about location 789. It’s the definition of a three-time loser. Coming at the point it does, it tickled my funny bone.
POINT OF VIEW This is written in multiple points of view. Some is first person, but most is third person.
OTHER SALIENT POINTS The story includes photos and a sketch, which help to bring the story to life. Also, the writer skillfully interweaves bits and pieces regarding other crimes where in mothers murdered their children.
‘…Sabrina Trembley pulled her car to the end of the car line for Living Savior Lutheran Preschool. If the car line had always bugged her—these were preschoolers, for goodness’ sake, so why in the world should parents not be allowed to walk their four-year-olds to class?—today she was especially annoyed. It had been only two days since Eldon was killed; were they expected to stay honeycombed in their cars and interact as little as possible?
Sabrina couldn’t do it. She couldn’t drive up like everything was normal and drop off her son. She swung the car around and parked in the church parking lot. It was a beautiful clear morning. She opened the car doors and sat there with Max. The car line looked longer than usual because the school doors had not opened on time. Sabrina was under the impression that teachers came early to pray together before school started. What could that have been like this morning, absorbing the news about Eldon while planning how to keep the kids happy all day?
When the doors opened, Sabrina saw how strained things were. The teachers wore grim half smiles while trying to sound ordinary: “Hi, Daphne. Oh, here’s Athena.” Their former classmate had been murdered by his mother, and yes, what Amanda had done was unspeakable, but did that mean they were supposed to act as though it had not happened?
Sabrina thought the email the school sent over the weekend, essentially a “we regret to inform you” note, had been vastly inadequate. Any sentient parent knew what happened. Amanda’s mug shot had been in every newspaper and on television. What disturbed Sabrina about the email, and again watching the children being escorted inside, was the sense that the murder was not going to be talked about. Did the faculty think that just because Eldon had been taken out of school in February—Sabrina was not sure why; something about his father taking him to Eugene—the children would forget him?
Max would not forget, and though Sabrina could not know as much in the car that morning, he never would. Six years later, he would cry in the back of a different car after being reminded of Eldon, of whom he would say, “He will always be four.”
Rommelmann, Nancy. To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder (p. 43-44). Little A. Kindle Edition.
As I alluded to in the opening, this is not the sort of story you’re going to enjoy, per se. It is, though, a story that you will need to grapple, if you intend to be a part of the solution. It matters less whether you find empathy for the mother, than it does that you understand the cause and effect of the interweaving of our current society in relation to lifestyles, entertainment, and the legal system.
Based on the overarching content, this is five star nonfiction. Based on the writing, which strikes many chords in good and in irritating ways, I am rating it four stars.
Please forgive me if I’ve injected too much of myself into this review.
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