The One-Way Bridge
Cathie Pelletier’s new novel, The One-Way Bridge, is covered with endorsements from top-name authors, including Wally Lamb, Fannie Flagg, and Richard Russo. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus also have praised her latest work, noting that fans will be pleased with this most recent effort.
Pelletier is the author of a dozen novels, two under the pen name K. C. McKinnon. Her earlier works also have garnered praise: The Weight of Winter won the New England Book Award, and Running the Bulls won the Paterson Prize for Fiction. Over the years, the author has earned praise from a variety of media, including People, Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker, and The Chicago Tribune. Pelletier has earned her writing chops with a string of successful novels.
The One-Way Bridge is a sound addition to that list. With richly drawn characters and a distinct sense of place, The One-Way Bridge transports the reader to a tiny town far north in Maine, where locals place bets on how early the snow will fall in autumn. Mattagash, one of Pelletier’s favorite fictional stomping grounds, is bisected by a one-lane bridge, too narrow for more than one car to pass at a time. Local custom dictates that the first driver to hit the bridge has the right of way, a tradition that invariably leads to a stand-off.
Pelletier’s Mattagash, Maine, is populated with a number of local characters, among them a persnickety mailman, a haunted Vietnam vet, a two-bit drug dealer, a friendly waitress, and a number of lonely, gossipy, discontented divorcees, widows, and housewives. Everyone knows everyone else, and everyone knows everyone else’s business.
Mattagash, of course, serves as a microcosm of life. Although it is a small town, the characters who live in Pelletier’s universe suffer through the same real-world struggles as anyone anywhere: love, scandal, loss, heartbreak. Similarly, the town’s little bridge serves as a metaphor, not only a physical landmark that links the tiny town together, but a figurative one as well, pulling people together just when they need to remember what binds them as neighbors, as a community, as fellow human beings.
Pelletier draws her story with a keen eye for detail and a sound ear for dialogue. Tiny Mattagash is full of interesting people—a lot of people. At times it can be difficult to keep track of all the characters (including two named “Billy”), and it can be tough to identify with a single one. No one in Pelletier’s Mattagash is entirely sympathetic, nor is anyone entirely detestable. No character seems all that happy or very much fulfilled. Many seem to have settled for a sleepy life in a town full of melancholy souls. But they are all human.
Ironic humor and witty quips punctuate Pelletier’s novel, keeping it from slipping into an abyss of downheartedness as Mattagash’s colorful residents stumble through a week of life in their remote enclave. These characters can be funny and frustrating, endearing and elusive. The One-Way Bridge may well leave readers wanting more—to learn more about the individuals who populate these pages, to discover the characters who live on the fringes of this tiny town, which feels not unlike Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegone, except that the women are sad, the men are self-absorbed, and the children are rambunctious.
The One-Way Bridge is Pelletier’s first novel in six years. Those who know and love her work likely won’t be disappointed. Those new to Pelletier’s world may find Mattagash inviting if not wholly fulfilling.
May 2013, Sourcebooks/Landmark
$24.99, hardcover, 292 pages
—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen