THE LAST BRIDGE by first-time novelist Teri Coyne begins with a
suicide and the discovery of a cryptic note. “He isn't who
you think he is,” writes Alexandra “Cat” Rucker's
mother on a piece of lilac stationary. Though Cat and her siblings
can imagine all the reasons their mother took her own life, the
note is mysterious. Is the reference to Cat's father? Her brother?
Addison Watkins, her first love? The overly helpful town coroner?
Someone else? As Cat tries to come to terms with her mother's
death, her father's serious illness, her relationship with her
brother and sister, and her first trip home in 10 years, the
identity of the “he” of the note begins to weigh on her
more and more.
After her mother's suicide (proceeded by a ritualistic
preparation of the house), Cat returns to her hometown of Wilton,
Ohio, for the first time in a decade. She has not seen her older
brother Jared or younger sister Wendy in nearly as long. She has
been in New York, barely eeking out a living as a cocktail
waitress, earning just enough to keep her permanently drunk. She is
running from a childhood of horrific abuse and a fateful series of
events that changed and traumatized her. The abuser was her father;
he controlled his wife through guilt, his son through humiliation,
his youngest daughter through bribery, and Cat through molestation
and violence. All three of them lived in fear of his sharp words,
erratic behavior and incessant torment.
Now, back in Wilton with her mother dead, her father in a coma
and her siblings under the same roof, Cat relives her painful
childhood. It only gets more difficult when she first learns some
of her mother’s secrets and then is brought face to face with
her first and only love, Addison, who is also back in town. Addison
is the caretaker of Cat's biggest secret, and seeing him threatens
to collapse the tenuous life of denial, hurt, drink and darkness
she has constructed for herself.
Cat is not a graceful survivor. She is bitter, caustic, angry,
withdrawn, raw and still unable to cope in any significant way with
what she went through. Coyne's protagonist is interesting; as a
first-person narrator she is smart, self-deprecating and totally
wounded. Her story goes back and forth between the present and the
past, from dealing with the details of her parents’ house and
funerals to recalling her father's abuse. It all culminates, as
expected, in a despicable event, the one that finally drove Cat
from her home and family. This occurrence reverberates in very real
ways for several of the characters, and any potential resolution
must come in dealing with it.
Coyne's pace and prose are unrelenting --- as tough and
dry-witted as Cat herself and as strong and fast as the rush of
memories that come back to her. THE LAST BRIDGE is a very
accomplished and confident debut novel. It is haunting and scary,
full of rage and energy, and offers no easy answers or pat
conclusion. The content and timing are intense and may prove to be
too dark for some sensitive readers. But nonetheless, it is a
worthwhile and compelling examination of the emotional and physical
havoc wreaked by abuse and the ways in which that havoc radiates
outward and turns inward. There is hope to be found here, too, but
it is of the realistic, not pollyanna, variety.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on December 30, 2010
The Last Bridge