Review: The Bridge

I don’t normally post blurbs, but this time I will:

Henry meets Christa on the west tower of the Brooklyn Bridge, just as they’re both about to jump off and kill themselves. Despite his paralyzing depression–and her panic over a second bout of cancer–they can’t go through with their plans knowing that the other is going to die. So they make a pact–they’ll stay alive for 24 hours, and try to convince each other to live.

From the Staten Island Ferry to Chinatown to the Museum of Modern Art–Henry and Christa embark on a New York City odyssey that exposes the darkest moments of their lives. Is it too late for them? Or will love give them the courage to face the terrifying possibility of hope?

I read this because Cecilia Grant picked it as one of her top romances of 2013. I would not normally have picked up a book with this premise but I think I am glad I did. It’s a tough book to read – none of your romantic fluff here – but worth it. These kinds of people don’t often get talked about in romance novels, for obvious reasons, but Maher makes it work.

The Bridge

Author: Rebecca Rogers Maher

Publisher: Promised Land Books

Date: 2013

Cover Art:bridge

It’s a good cover that accurately reflects the tone and content of the story.

Hero: Henry. He is not a hero, but he is the male protagonist of a romance novel and that’s the convention. He’s suffered from depression since his early teens. This is not his first serious suicide attempt. He comes from a wealthy family and his closest relationship was with his nanny. He’s good at his job, he’s good-looking, he’s got everything he could want. He hates life. He hates the world. He hates the depression. The portrayal of Henry’s mental illness absolutely rang true for me. I haven’t ever reached Henry’s suicidal depths, but I have had depression and I recognised some of Henry’s suffering in my own.

Heroine: Christa. I think she is a heroine, actually, as well as by the romance convention. Christa had none of the privileges that Henry grew up with. An addict mother, an absent father, a husband who left her, and now a sister who followed in her mother’s footsteps, Christa is alone in life. Sure, she has friends but she feels she’s used up the support they can offer her the first time she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Right now, she’s got no one.

Other: Not really.

Marriage: Not even close. The ending is about as optimistic as you could realistically imagine given the set up of this book, but it’s clear that this is only the beginning. It’s more about the future being a possibility than about determining what the future will look like.

Enjoyment factor: I was nervous about reading this because of the subject matter and I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed it. But it was compelling and I cared enormously about both Henry and Christa. I wanted them both to find a reason to live and as the book went on I wanted them to see that they could each find that reason in the other. I would certainly recommend this book to others.

Epilogue: No.

The other thing I was thinking about while I read this was a tedious piece of commentary on the romance genre that I read recently which, among other things, was trying to draw comparisons between Ian McEwan’s Atonement and romance novels. The Bridge reminded me of a different McEwan book, Saturday. Both books take place over the course of a life-altering 24 hours. Both have a strong sense of place, being precisely located in large cities. Both discuss issues of coincidence, fate or divine providence. Saturday isn’t a romance novel (by any definition), it’s a much longer book, and it has different goals. The Bridge is a romance novella and as such it works. I was invested in the relationship between Christa and Hugh from the start and was glad to see them come to the resolution they find at the end. But I think it would be possible to read The Bridge as literary fiction too. It’s an exploration of what drives people to end their own lives and what can make it possible to draw back, and on that level, I think it holds up pretty well against the McEwan.

Reader, I Married Him.

I am not, in general, a fan of books written in the first person. In fact, I was dismissive of them all until Liz reminded me earlier this week of Jane Eyre. Which has made me think a bit more about what in particular I dislike about some first person narratives and why others work for me.

The problem of voice
If a book is written in the first person, then it only has one voice (yes, I know, some books alternate, but let’s keep things simple for the moment), and that voice belongs to a character. Usually the main character. That means I’d better like the character and the voice if I’m going to spend a whole book with her. Some characters just aren’t likeable enough for me to enjoy that, whereas perhaps if their voice only came in dialogue, or even filtered a bit through a third person close narrative, they might be okay. The Kristan Higgins book I tried (Too Good To Be True) didn’t work for me for this reason.

The problem of perspective
This can be a problem for any book told only from one point of view, whether it uses first or third person. You only get one view of events and one perspective on their consequences. In a romance I find this problematic because unless the author is extremely skilled, I only get to see one of the characters falling in love. This was a problem for me in The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers.

I am not your therapist
Sometimes a book written in the first person can read like the character is unburdening herself to her therapist. Everything is about the character and her responses and feelings and the inside of her head are examined in tedious detail and often in emotionally manipulative ways. I hate this kind of book with a passion. If I wanted to be a therapist, I would become one. Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry felt like this while I was reading it.

Over-identification
Mostly, I like to be told a story rather than expected to live through it. First person narrative, for me, often puts me into the action. I am the ‘I’ when I’m reading. It’s exhausting and emotionally draining, and I don’t enjoy that kind of reading experience. Third person allows me to keep the book at a safe distance.

So, here’s my advice if you’re thinking about writing your book in first person:

Work hard at making your character someone who is easy to spend time with. Give her the most attractive and compelling voice you can, since there’s nothing to dilute it for the reader.

Work hard to show other points of view when they are needed for the sake of the story. Show us when your narrator gets things wrong. Give other characters plenty of chance to speak. Help the narrator to understand what they are thinking and feeling so that the reader can too.

Remember that you are still telling a story. Edit your characters thoughts and feelings. We don’t need every last drop of internal angst. Do not EVER give her an inner goddess.

And mostly, my biggest tip is reconsider. If you can possibly find a way of telling it in the third person, do it. Use first person if you have to, and only if you have to.

Also, and here’s a tip from Charlotte Bronte, first person does not have to mean present tense.

Heroine week!

It’s Heroine Week all week over at Romance around the Corner, and Brie has got some great guest posts lined up. My rant about Fanny Price is coming later this week, but today she’s got posts from Sarah Mayberry and Stephanie Doyle on everyday heroines and the heroine’s point of view.

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I love the idea of a week celebrating romance heroines. So often discussion focuses on heroes – how tall, dark and handsome they really have to be, how tortured, scarred or emotionally closed off they can be, and how much readers do or don’t fancy them. Which is all well and good. I like a great hero as much as the next person, but I LOVE a great heroine.

For me that means a woman I can respect and like, but most importantly, a woman I am rooting for. The romances I love most are the ones where the heroines triumph. They get the awesome guy they deserve. They get the respect they’ve earned. They get their dreams come true. I don’t love a story with a ‘diminished heroine’. I don’t want her to have to abandon her dreams or settle for less than the best. I want her to grasp hold of her life and be the best person she can be. I want her hero to challenge her, admire her, adore her and take on the world for her. But I also want her to rise to the challenge and take on the world for him. I want her life to be better in every respect for loving and being loved.

I’m Ros, and I’m addicted to heroines.
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But I’m okay with that.