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October 9, 2008 |

By Miscellaneous | Books | October 9, 2008 |

I’m a night owl. My body seems to come alive after 10 p.m. with a renewed sense of purpose. Most nights that purpose is to either make some baked goods, read (I have recently discovered a competitive streak in myself), or futzing on the internet. Occasionally, I become embroiled in some intense crafty project or organizing venture. But the television isn’t my usual late night dance partner. I’ve never watched “The Drew Carey Show” either. Therefore it stands to reason that Craig Ferguson would be completely off my radar. Eternally grateful I am to my friend who lent me her copy of Between the Bridge and the River (she is also responsible for My Horizontal Life and Apathy) because she introduced me to the literary gifts of Mr. Ferguson. Apparently, he’s a funny dude on TV, and his funny comes through in his writing as well. I might have to spend a few of my night owl hours dedicated to the “Late Late Show.”

To describe the plot of Between the Bridge and the River would probably result in something strikingly similar to one of the conversations I have with my toddler son, especially when he is recounting some creative escapade he is having in the playroom involving Lightening McQueen, a monster truck, Tow Truck Man, and an alpaca. But I’ll give it my best shot. The book opens on two sets of boys. Fraser Darby and George Ingram are Scottish pals who, despite the religious boundaries between them, have had a loyal friendship until a weird, drunken encounter causes them to drift apart. The Martini half- brothers, Leon and Saul, are schlepped from their Georgia home and insane mother’s care into a foster home. But Leon’s genetically bestowed gift of song and Saul’s desperate attachment to his brother propel them further into the Deep South and closer to their ultimate destiny.

The novel hops forward a few decades finding Fraser a disgraced, debauched minor televangelist who has vivid, surreal psychoanalytical sessions with Carl Jung in his dreams. George, facing a terminal cancer diagnosis, has abandoned his drab career, disaffected teenage daughter, and dull marriage to an uncertain future and a one-way ticket to Paris. The Martini brothers, riding on Leon’s talent, move from a backwater Signs and Wonders church to the neon orgy of Vegas to the hollow dream factory of Hollywood. Eventually, the paths of these four men will cross, but not before taking a few side trips through the realm of the metaphysical and the Deep South in a stolen RV with a thief, an addict, and anorexic. What happens along the way is an insane carnival ride of incidents and accidents that could have very easily turned into a spastic spiral of nonsense, but Ferguson is a writer of some skill who easily juggles it all with a flourish of wit. I don’t want to divulge any more of the narrative details mostly because the novel’s gleefully deceptive randomness is what makes the ride so enjoyable and because my little feeble fingers on the keyboard wouldn’t do them justice.

Ferguson’s is deft at seamlessly weaving satire, symbolism, absurd humor, fantasy, philosophy, and sentimentality into his novel. While the story on the surface may look like a room saturated in a tangle of yarn tossed about by a couple of pranksters, Ferguson guides the reader slowly backwards away from the mess of fibers and colors to see the delicate pattern in all the scattershot wildness. In the world of the novel, almost every character, no matter how minor, is connected in some way to one of the four principals, like spots of dew sharing the same strand of a web. Ferguson is also a master of the Character Capsules-perfectly formed sentences that encapsulate a character so smoothly, allowing the reader to get the full (often hysterical) force of even the most peripheral characters without having to swallow a bunch of watery exposition in the process. His dialogue is sharp and blisteringly funny (and I am kicking myself that I don’t have a copy handy from which to pull examples). These talents in creating vividly realized characters and brilliant back-and-forth dialogue reminded me a great deal of the writings of Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams. What are those U.K. mommas feeding their budding writer boys? I’d like to start supplementing my kid’s diet.

Ferguson’s no schlub at poking a very sharp and perceptive stick into the eye of American culture, religion (especially the televised cultish ones), and Hollywood. For a furriner, he is pretty damn astute at pointing out the pimples on the back of Lady Liberty’s arms. Yet his mocking has a buoyant convivial tone; he likes America, despite all her flaws, like you would that college roommate who lives in his parents’ basement, still can’t get his shit together, but sure does know how to have a good time and would totally come pick you up off the side of the road if you called. Compared to the near seething criticism he has for his native culture … shoo wee. He teeters dangerously in his characterizations of Southern born folk; perhaps it’s because I am sensitive to the way my brethren and sisters are portrayed, but my “People of the South are toothless, retarded, inbred goofballs.” alarm very nearly began clanging loudly. Very nearly. But not quite.

The adventures of the Brothers Martini in Hollywood stretched too long for my taste, probably because (Thanks in no small part to the author’s skills) the Saul character was intolerably repulsive and the less I read of him, the better I felt in my tummy. Also, while he was spot on with so much of his parody and mocking of the Hollywood Stupidity Factory, Ferguson uses these silly pseudonyms that frankly insult the reader’s intelligence. A vain, self-absorbed movie star named “Meg Roberts.” An empty cultish religion gripping Hollywood is called “Brainyism.” And so on. Ooh ho ho ho. Hee hee hee. Take the funniest comedian you can think of and imagining him or her injecting a smattering of stale Borscht Belt knock-knock jokes into an otherwise blistering set. Kill joy.

The female characters in the novel are flotsam and jetsam; they are either bovine, ineffectual wives or heads attached to boobs and vaginas. The ghost of those Women’s Studies classes from college started a’rattling her chains in my head. The one properly developed female character is a lonely Frenchwoman who, through her furious love and vast amounts of crazysexytime, helps George on his path to redemption. She’s the archetypical French paragon of womanly beauty and perfection: all lips, hips, and tits with an insatiable appetite for sex and a sharp nihilistic mind. This character irritated the shit out of me for her being a cop out or maybe it’s just that she reminded me too much of the snippy, busty little desk clerk at the hotel in the Latin Quarter. Man, I wanted to slap her snarky lips off when she sad they did not have our reservations. Merde on you, booby French girl.

Whiffs of chauvinism and annoying booby French girls aside, I had a good time with this book. It’s at times bawdy, surreal, funny, disgusting, and even a dash sweet-if you buy into that whole “romance in Paris with a sexy French citizen” business. Me, eh, not so much.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. You can read more about it, here.

Cannonball Read / AlabamaPink

Books | October 9, 2008 |

American Carol

Bill Hader's Bad Lieutenant

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