Sunday, April 22, 2007

Between the Bridge and the River

Between the Bridge and the River, by Craig Ferguson
$8.37 at Amazon.com ISBN: 0811858197
An outstanding novel by a terrific new author. Funny and irreverent, yet sensitive and deeply personal, this book is cut from the same cloth as Kurt Vonnegut or Tom Robbins. Religion, sex, death, love, and friendship are all overlapping themes, yet it's never heavy or dark. In fact, it's hilarious, beginning to end, and one of the best works of fiction I've reviewed so far.
George and Fraser are boyhood friends who grew up in Scotland, and our story follows them through their lives as they diverge and reconnect. George has a childhood problem with bed-wetting and is often teased for being wimpy and effeminate. As a man he is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and abandons his family to spend his last days on a wild, protracted suicide/bender. Fraser becomes a tele-evangelist, and causes an international sensation when it's discovered that he's a sex-fiend who doesn't even have any religious training.
In addition, there's an awesome cast of supporting characters. Two boys are the adopted children of a priest in a snake-handling community. The priest, in fact, finds snakes a little depressing and creepy and wishes his services involved more user-friendly animals: rabbits, kittens, baby goats. Anything would be better than snakes.
My favorite is a sexy lady called Claudette, who has been ordained by God to fall for men who die shortly after or during sex with her. Her love becomes a salve for the pain of their passing. It can't be too much fun for her, though.
Ferguson writes mostly while his characters are alone, often feeling humiliated or degraded. As a result the story is brutally honest and deeply personal. He has a tremendous gift for describing someone's experiences and personality in just a few key phrases. Short back-stories for even the most minor characters make the entire book very rich and alive, and shows how someone can affect the lives of loved ones long after their own death. Mostly, though, it's a collection of very funny situations, each more outrageous than the last. It's quite easy to get into, and you'll be able to relate to it in every phase of life, from childhood to old age. No one in the book is really wicked, they all just get caught with their pants down from time to time. It's the perfect kind of book for leisure reading: deep but not too deep.

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