Madelyn’s Bibliophilia: “Bridge of Clay”

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BY MADELYN SCHMIDT madelyn.schmidt@go.mnstate.edu

A weekly book review column in which I write about classics, newer novels, poetry books, and works by local F-M authors.

Welcome back, fellow book-lovers, to my life as a bibliophiliac. For this week’s review I will tackle a novel by the renowned author of “The Book Thief” and “I Am the Messenger,” Markus Zusak. I am a big fan of Zusak’s work, and after reading these two novels, I knew I had to set aside a day or two when “Bridge of Clay” came out last October of 2018.

“Bridge of Clay” is a remarkable story about a clan of five brothers outlived by their mother and abandoned by their father. They live a rambunctious life headed by oldest brother Matthew, who tries to keep order in the chaos. The secrets of parents Penelope and Michael linger in the corners of the house they once lived in with their five sons. Youngest brother Clay knows all, but, being the quietest of the Dunbar boys, doesn’t always speak up. He is focused on building a bridge that will hopefully survive the flood that is coming and stand the test of time.

Considering the prose-like nature of this fiction novel, I found the writing exceptionally poetic and eloquent. Zusak depicts his characters with the accuracy and color of an artist painting a portrait. I felt I had known Clay his whole life and always would. Clay, despite his past, is composed and soft-spoken, which makes him stand out from his brothers. And I absolutely adored his relationship with neighbor girl Carey. 

The plot of “Bridge of Clay” is hard to put your finger on. Bouncing often between the history of the Dunbar parents and the brothers’ current lives, Zusak makes subtle connections between relationships and events in both, which can make it easy to get confused or bored while reading.

There were only a few moments when I thought the plot could be moving along faster, as I was so invested in the characters themselves. But I can see how the sporadic jumping between plots and characters’ lives can be complicated to follow or discouraging to read. However, a connection I admired and one that really helped shape the story is Penny and Michael’s devotion to each other being paralleled by Clay’s feelings for Carey.

I won’t spoil it, but I have to admit I don’t love the ending of this book. You will have to read it to find out. 

If you’re looking for some crazy-adventure-fighting-undercover-spies book, this is not for you; but if you love poetic, poignant heartbreak and family relationships, “Bridge of Clay” will capture your heart and rip it out, in a good way.

I would give “Bridge of Clay” a 9/10, only deducting one for the dragging plot at times. I loved the authentic relationships portrayed, and that is what made this novel a huge success in my mind.

And that’s what’s on my bookshelf. Until next time!

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