Other Side of the Bridge (Lawson)

The Other Side of the Bridge 
Mary Lawson, 2006
Random House
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385340380


Summary
From the author of the beloved best seller, Crow Lake, comes an exceptional new novel of jealously, rivalry and the dangerous power of obsession.

Two brothers, Arthur and Jake Dunn, are the sons of a farmer in the mid-1930s, when life is tough and another world war is looming. Arthur is reticent, solid, dutiful and set to inherit the farm and his father’s character; Jake is younger, attractive, mercurial and dangerous to know – the family misfit. When a beautiful young woman comes into the community, the fragile balance of sibling rivalry tips over the edge.

Then there is Ian, the family’s next generation, and far too sure he knows the difference between right and wrong. By now it is the fifties, and the world has changed – a little, but not enough.

These two generations in the small town of Struan, Ontario, are tragically interlocked, linked by fate and community but separated by a war which devours its young men – its unimaginable horror reaching right into the heart of this remote corner of an empire. With her astonishing ability to turn the ratchet of tension slowly and delicately, Lawson builds their story to a shocking climax. Taut with apprehension, surprising us with moments of tenderness and humour, The Other Side of the Bridge is a compelling, humane and vividly evoked novel with an irresistible emotional undertow. (From the publisher.)

The Other Side of the Bridge was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.



Author Bio
Birth—1946
Where—Ontario, Canada
Education—B.A., McGill University
Awards—Books in Canada First Novel; McKitterick Prize
  (both for Crow Lake);
Currently—lives in Kingston-upon-Thames, England, UK


Mary Lawson was born and brought up in a farming community in central Ontario. She is a distant relative of the author of Anne of Green Gables. She moved to England in 1968, is married with two sons, and lives in Kingston-upon-Thames. Crow Lake is her first novel. Her second is The Other Side of the Bridge. (Adapted from the publisher.)



Book Reviews
There's an almost Sophoclean momentum as events rush to their end. The reader prays that inescapable harm will not come to good people. But the novel's true literary antecedent is in Genesis: the story of Esau and Jacob, brothers in a dysfunctional family where each parent has a favorite child and the younger son can think circles around the older. Lawson honors these archetypes by using them discreetly; biblical undertones simply add to the story's richness.The Other Side of the Bridge is an admirable novel. Its old-fashioned virtues were also apparent in Crow Lake—narrative clarity, emotional directness, moral context and lack of pretension—but Lawson has ripened as a writer, and this second novel is much broader and deeper. The author draws her characters with unobtrusive humor and compassion, and she meets one of the fiction writer's most difficult challenges: to portray goodness believably, without sugar or sentiment.
Frances Taliaferro - Washington Post


Lawson’s gifts are enormous, especially her ability to write a literary work in a popular style. Her dialogue has perfect pitch, yet I’ve never read anyone better at articulating silence. Best of all, Lawson creates the most quotable images in Canadian literature.
Toronto Star


One of the most eagerly awaited books of the autumn season.... The prologue draws you in, as does the novel, which is consistently well-written, involving and enjoyable to read.... Achingly real, known, [Arthur’s] inner life, with all its shifts in understanding, emotion, perception and conflicted impulses, is rendered with compelling force in concise, supple prose.
Ottawa Citizen


I could not put it down, but perhaps better to say that I could not let it go or that it would not let me go . . . Lawson transported me into a place that I know does not exist by taking me deep down into the story of a family whose fate is inexorable and universal. Her reality became mine.
Globe and Mail (Toronto)


“[Lawson] returns to several of the themes that marked her brilliantly successful first novel, Crow Lake .... Lawson’s cornucopia of novelistic gifts, even more bounteously on display in her second book, includes handsome, satisfying sentences, vivid descriptions of physical work and landscape and an almost fiendish efficiency in building the feeling that something very bad is about to happen.
National Post (Canada)


In this follow-up to her acclaimed Crow Lake, Lawson again explores the moral quandaries of life in the Canadian North. At the story's poles are Arthur Dunn, a stolid, salt-of-the-earth farmer, and his brother, Jake, a handsome, smooth-talking snake in the grass, whose lifelong mutual resentments and betrayals culminate in a battle over the beautiful Laura, with Arthur, it seems, the unlikely winner. Observing, and eventually intervening in their saga, is Ian, a teenager who goes to work on Arthur's farm to get close to Laura, seeing in her the antithesis of the mother who abandoned his father and him. It's a standard romantic dilemma who to choose: the goodhearted but dull provider or the seductive but unreliable rogue? but it gains depth by being set in Lawson's epic narrative of the Northern Ontario town of Struan as it weathers Depression, war and the coming of television. It's a world of pristine landscapes and brutal winters, where beauty and harshness are inextricably intertwined, as when Ian brings home a puppy that gambols adorably about and then playfully kills Ian's even cuter pet bunny. Lawson's evocative writing untangles her characters' confused impulses toward city and country, love and hate, good and evil.
Publishers Weekly


At the center of Lawson's follow-up to her lauded debut, Crow Lake, are the antithetical personalities of two brothers the handsome and insidious Jake and Arthur, who's diffident and diligent. This stark contrast bursts into dangerous sibling rivalry when a girl named Laura comes between them. Lawson composes the novel in mutually enlightening chapters that vacillate between two different periods: the brothers' adolescence and early adulthood during World War II and a setting 20 years later, when Arthur and Laura are married, Jake has returned to Arthur's farm after a long absence, and Ian, a local boy who also is attracted to Laura, is working with Arthur. Lawson ingeniously uses this narrative structure to create immense tension by gradually disclosing the past Ian walks into and the unresolved hostility he unwittingly reignites in his adoration for Laura. The suspense of Arthur's impending explosion is a double-edged sword, though, as along the way his reticence depletes many events of their emotional impact. Despite this flaw, Lawson proves herself an adept chronicler of the conflicting dispositions and priorities that divide a family. Recommended for most fiction collections.
Library Journal


Lawson's melancholy saga of misspent youth, misplaced passion, and mistaken assumptions evinces both an enchanting delicacy and provocative vitality, and delivers an unerring sensitivity to place and time, people and passions. —Carol Haggas
Booklist


Another note-perfect take on coming of age in northern Canada, as beautiful as the landscape is stark, from Lawson. Jake and Arthur are as dissimilar as brothers can be. Arthur, stolid and strong, takes after their farmer father, which is a great help as the Depression hits even their self-sufficient village of Struan. Quicksilver younger brother Jake is their mother's favorite. She admires his good looks and wit, but is blind to his selfishness. The brothers are so different that the story's crisis feels inevitable. Assigned to walk cows to a neighbor's farm, Arthur patiently leads a nervous heifer over a rickety bridge, while Jake fools around on the bridge's underside. When Jake calls out that the cow's movements might make him fall, Arthur responds with one rare word, "Good," that will haunt him throughout life. Cut to 20 years later, and Arthur is in charge of the family farm, still silent, still suffering, despite a healthy family and lovely wife. This second story focuses on young Ian, the son of Struan's doctor, who obsesses over Arthur's wife. As he wrestles with his own legacy, he becomes more involved with Arthur's, bringing about an event that will lay bare several secrets. With all the elements of melodrama, Lawson instead crafts a deftly interwoven story of family and loss. Jake's not evil, just bored. He, like Ian's mother, isn't valued in this hardscrabble climate, where his father and brother miss his school play due to errands. "Farming's important. Work's important. Time he knew what matters and what doesn't." The calm and beauty of the setting pervade Lawson's second novel, intensifying the heartfelt pull of its simple human drama.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. How were you affected by the novel’s prologue? What did you discover about Arthur and Jake in this scene? How did your perceptions of the brothers change throughout the book?

2. How would you answer the questions that conclude the prologue? What accounts for the differences between those who follow the rules, like Arthur, and those who defy them? Which came more easily for you as an adolescent: obedience or defiance?

3. How were Jake and Arthur affected by their family dynamic? Did their mother pamper Jake too much? Did their father favor Arthur because he was easier to manage, or was Jake difficult to manage because of his father’s favoritism?

4. What was the effect of the novel’s timeline? How did it compare to your own experience of the continuum between present moments and memory? What parallels run between Ian’s life and Arthur’s?

5. Discuss the use of the headlines that open each chapter. What do they say about the local and global concerns of humanity? In what way were the headlines timeless, and in what way did they convey the unique attributes of this locale? What headlines would be most significant in marking the chapters of your life?

6. What is the significance of the two time periods in the lives of the characters? How were the Dunn brothers shaped by a youth of economic hardship and the presence of POWs? How was Ian shaped by an era of greater liberation, with television for entertainment and “risqué” music on the radio? What dreams for the future did each of these generations possess?

7. Discuss the nature of love and marriage as described in the novel. What made Jake so irresistible to Laura? What made Dr. Christopherson’s wife choose another man? Was Laura’s appeal strictly physical when she first moved to town? What is the riskiest romantic decision you have made?

8. How are the characters shaped by the novel’s setting? What do the natural surroundings of the town mean to them? What separates those who want to escape from those who bask in the town’s familiarity?

9. Why is Ian so transformed by the “day of the dragonflies” that concludes chapter nine? What did these memories mean to him?

10. Discuss the novel’s title. What does it mean for the characters to reach the other side of the bridge? Could Jake and Arthur ever be free of the wounds they inflicted on each other?

11. Who ultimately was responsible for Jake’s fall from the bridge? Who ultimately paid the price (literally, in terms of his medical bills, and figuratively as well)?

12. How did you react to the knowledge that Ian followed in his father’s footsteps after all? Did he make the right decision?

13. Laura confides in Arthur soon after meeting him, telling him she doesn’t believe that God cares about humanity (Chapter Ten). How would you have responded to her?

14. Discuss the cycles of tragedy conveyed in the Dunn family history, from the death of Arthur’s father to the closing scenes of Carter. How do characters cope with the concepts of fate versus intent? How do they cope with regret?

15. What common threads link the families in this novel to those in Crow Lake? What makes rural landscapes so appropriate for both of these storylines? Do you think people who grow up in cities feel the same passion for them as the characters in these two novels feel for the land?

16. If Matt Morrison, the brilliant and adored older brother in Crow Lake, had wandered into this book, which character do you think he would have had more in common with, Ian or Pete?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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