Thursday, January 2, 2020

THE BRIDGE :: Enza Gandolfo

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

On October 15, 1970, a span of the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne collapsed during construction, killing 35 workers and sucking countless souls into the aftermath. Out of one of Australia's worst industrial accidents, Enza Gandolfo crafts a novel that imagines the long-term fallout as the 40th anniversary of the catastrophe approaches.

Newlywed Antonello was one of the survivors, an Italian immigrant trying to be "Australiani," working as a rigger high atop the structure. Nello lost friends and his father-figure foreman; he gained anger, depression and guilt--they had all known things weren't right with the bridge. In 2009, Nello is a grandfather with a lovely family. But he's just "partly human," unable to be the man he intended, emotionally blocked and haunted by persistent nightmares about falling: "There was no escaping the bridge."

Across town, single mother Mandy is struggling to get by with her 18-year-old daughter, Jo. Like Nello, Mandy sees signs of trouble but fails to speak out. The cost of staying silent is a tragedy that locks the two families together.

In The Bridge, Gandolfo tenderly explores the repercussions of trauma, providing a tribute to the men who built the bridge and their long-suffering families. Shortlisted for the 2019 Stella Prize, The Bridge is a gripping look at life through the prism of grief and blame.

STREET SENSE: I was unaware of the West Gate Bridge tragedy, to my shame. The Bridge helped me learn about an important event in Australian history through a lovely and painful story of relationships, grief and healing.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  As if orchestrated by a callous conductor, the morning came crashing into the room.

COVER NERD SAYS:  These three images make sense with respect to the story, but they make for a busy cover. A bit busy for me, and I honestly didn't pay them much attention until I looked at the cover for this section of the review. I'm glad the title and author are in large, crisp font. While the images are likely Nello and Jo in their respective early years, without knowing the story they don't do much to grab me like perhaps a graphic image of the bridge might have.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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