Breakable You and The Bridge

On the surface these two books have nothing in common. One is about a family in Manhattan with close ties to the publishing industry. The other is a magical realism story about a man living on an endless bridge and the timelines that intersect through him. I guess that’s the key, timelines.

Rarely do I read a novel straight through. Often I will lay down a book for several months before finishing it. This was the case with Ian Banks’ The Bridge. I had set it down not because of lack of interest but because it got misplaced in the shuffle while I was traveling. This occurred somewhere between Seattle and SXSW. I found it again while going through my swag from Austin.

By that time I had nearly finished Brian Morton’s Breakable You. Never having read Morton before I had picked it up at random during the binge that is the Seattle Friends of the Library Booksale.

Maudlin is good word for the book. It’s a story that revolves around the New York literary scene and set of broken characters that are in transition. The book is full of awkward moments in the character’s lives, you know the way pivotal moments in life really are.

Morton’s style is problematic. He keeps having the character’s give these introspective asides. He’s trying to let the reader into the thought processes of the character and he’s also purposefully slipping in some philosophy. I don’t have an issue with that. I have an issue with the construct.

Milan Kundera, for example, constantly breaks the fourth wall in order to communicate directly to the reader. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being he stops the narrative to describe how one of the characters was born out of something he ate. That’s because Kundera is less interested in plot then he is in detailing a novel of ideas.

Morton is interested in plot. Every aspect of Breakable You works like a moving sidewalk moving the reader forward. Every time an aside is thrown in however it’s like someone toggled the moving sidewalk’s power switch. It completely takes you out of the story. What should be ferociously moving moments in the story: a child’s illness, a mother’s inability to cope her baby, are blunted by the way Morton wields these monologue length asides. Which is unfortunate because there is a strong story here.

Which brings me back to The Bridge. When I picked it back up a funny thing happened. The timelines for both novels essentially intersected. Both contain nearly identical scenes of characters dealing with infidelity and of a car crash due to driver’s fatigue. While neither author does a spectacular job with these scenes it is amazing how much better Banks’ writing is because he can relate ideas without having his characters monologue.

If maudlin best describes Breakable You, haunting best describes The Bridge. This novel reminds me in many ways of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind especially in tone. There is a scene in that film where Jim Carrey’s character is walking through a library and suddenly every book and cover goes blank. The scene was chilling to me (and not just because of my addiction to books). In The Bridge there is a scene where workers show up to a man’s residence in order to move him. Since he is a ward of the state who is being demoted they go about repossessing every item he owns including the clothes he’s wearing. Equally chilling.

Through most of the novel there are two main characters: a man who is lost and a construct which the book takes its title from. The Bridge as a character serves as a metaphor, a place, a society, and a connection between multiple timelines. The timelines involve the lost man’s past and future and sense of self. It’s a story worth exploring.

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