The Other Side of The Bridge By Mary Lawson
This is the best book I have read this fall. It is the ideal book for you, your mom, your grandmother, your aunt and very possibly some of the men in your life. It is men who are the main characters - and it is their lives it is all about. Mary Lawson wrote the novel Crow Lake a few years ago. Year after year it has been read and enjoyed, her fans eagerly awaiting a new novel. There is always a fear that a second novel will disappoint but this one most certainly does not.
Our main characters are Dr. Christopherson, his son Ian, and the brothers Arthur and Jake Dunn. The time is before and after the Second World War - the span of a generation - from the youth of Arthur in the beginning to the youth of Ian in the late 1950s - and then a decade later. We go back and forth from Arthur's youth to Ian’s youth until the stories meet in 1960.
The place is northern Ontario, in the fictional town of Straun - somewhere near New Liskeard, a farming community, isolated in the Canadian Shield, the lakes, the forests - hard land for farming.
Arthur Dunn and his younger brother, Jake, are rivals from the time of their childhood. Arthur is responsible and Jake is fool-hardy.
The destructive sibling rivalry is with Arthur and Jake all of their lives. There is a sense of impending tragedy from the beginning of the novel - I felt I was simply waiting, as I read, for the world to fall apart for these characters.
The love, and the lack of love, that these characters have for each other have profound, and sometimes tragic, effects.
Many men, now in their 80s will remember this time. Local historian, John Macfie, told me about the young men - boys - in Parry Sound lining up at the post office to enlist in the army when war was declared in 1939.
In this novel the immediate effect was that there were not enough men left in the community to do the farming required. Arthur, rejected because of flat feet, in spite of his otherwise strong-as-an-ox body, works like a slave on his farm and that of his neighbour, with his father, for the duration of the war.
When so many young men joined up together, in the same regiment, a whole town could lose all of their young men in the slaughter of the war. Even as the war is ending, late in the novel, and the world was supposed to be rejoicing “it didn’t feel very festive, though. Five years of war had drained the capacity for festive feeling out of the people. The war might be coming to an end in theory, but in practice the telegrams were still arriving and peace was just an unreal dream.”
Before the war’s end, Arthur's father dies and Arthur must do the farming alone -and he must do it in his grief.
All of the words they had never shared are in his mind, and his need for his father's support is in his heart. They had worked side by side all of Arthur's life.
“Last thing at night he went out to the barns for a final look around before bed, as he and his father had always done, just to check that everything was okay. They used to stand for a minute or two in the farmyard afterwards, studying the sky, and Arthur did it still, couldn’t break the habit, though of all the moments of his day it caused the greatest pain. He stood alone in the silence of the night, remembering”. Wow!
This is Ian’s story as much as it is Arthur's. It is Arthur’s wife, Laura, who brings Arthur and Ian together. Ian adores Laura, a teenage boy's fantasy of the perfect woman, and he comes to work on the farm with Arthur during the summer vacation to be near Laura. Ian adores Laura and becomes intricately involved in the life of her family. Ian is in his last year of high school, trying to decide if he will become a doctor as everyone assumes he will, the third generation Dr. Christopherson in this town, or if he can map his own destiny. When the tragedy finally occurs his decision is made.
This will be the book that keeps you up all night reading - one of the very best this fall!