Friday, December 11, 2009

Book Review: The Last Bridge

Title: The Last Bridge
Author: Teri Coyne
ISBN: 978-0-345-59731-0
Pages: 240
Release Date: July 28, 2009
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Publisher's Summary:
For ten years, Alexandra “Cat” Rucker has been on the run from her past. With an endless supply of bourbon and a series of meaningless jobs, Cat is struggling to forget her Ohio hometown and the rural farmhouse she once called home. But a sudden call from an old neighbor forces Cat to return to the home and family she never intended to see again. It seems that Cat’s mother is dead.

What Cat finds at the old farmhouse is disturbing and confusing: a suicide note, written on lilac stationery and neatly sealed in a zip-lock bag, that reads: Cat, He isn’t who you think he is. Mom xxxooo

One note, ten words–one for every year she has been gone–completely turns Cat’s world upside down. Seeking to unravel the mystery of her mother’s death, Cat must confront her past to discover who “he” might be: her tyrannical, abusive father, now in a coma after suffering a stroke? Her brother, Jared, named after her mother’s true love (who is also her father’s best friend)? The town coroner, Andrew Reilly, who seems to have known Cat’s mother long before she landed on a slab in his morgue? Or Addison Watkins, Cat’s first and only love?
The closer Cat gets to the truth, the harder it is for her to repress the memory and the impact of the events that sent her away so many years ago.

Taut, gripping, and edgy, The Last Bridge is an intense novel of family secrets, darkest impulses, and deep-seated love. Teri Coyne has created a stunning tapestry of pain and passion where past and present are seamlessly interwoven to tell a story that sears and warms in equal measure.

My thoughts:
The first seventeen years of Cat's life, the narrator protagonist of The Last Bridge, were lived in pain, fear and confusion. Although she grew up in a family of five, she was only able to rely on one member of her family to love her and protect her when the "Monster" in the house reared his ugly head. The Monster was what Cat called her father. He made life a living hell for everyone in the family except Cat's sister, Wendy. Her brother, Jared, protected her as much as he could, but like his siblings, he was just a kid trying to survive. Cat, usually alone, would hide in the woods behind the house, escaping into her red sketchbook. Cat's mother loved her but let her know she wouldn't find protection in her arms.

Cat's emotional turmoil followed her when she fled her hometown, along with an intense feeling that she was not lovable. She didn't feel any safer away from home and the town she'd known all her life. She felt scared and completely alone, abandoned by the people who were supposed to love and protect her, . The emotions that lived deep inside of her intensified until she thought she'd go mad. She found solace in alcohol, the only thing she could depend on to wipe away all the bad feelings and memories as she tried to forge a life on her own.

The death of Cat's mother forces her to return to her hometown, a place she vowed she would never return. She arrives drunk, bitter and hurting. Every person and every place she sees is a painful reminder of a past she's tried so hard to forget. The buried feelings rise to the surface in one large mass, threatening to destroy her completely should they continue to be ignored.

Making things more frightening for Cat is the discovery that Addison is living in her hometown, He is the man she once tried to love but couldn't overcome her fears to make that leap. He is one of only two people who knows her most haunting secret, and when she learns he is living there, Cat considers leaving. But she's tired of running and hiding, tired of the pain, loneliness and sadness that are her constant companions. She must decide if she is brave enough to face the past, give up the drinking and begin a new life in earnest and finally let people in.

Teri Coyne has written a riveting and disturbing first novel filled with intense dialogue and vivid descriptions It's extremely well-written and, at times, so painful and real, I found myself cringing. The book is written in the present with the memories of Cat supplying flashbacks to the events of the past. Ms. Coyne handles the back and forth between past and present with a seamless flow that makes it easy to follow. It's quite apparent that Cat is drunk most of the time and some of her memories are disjointed or incomplete because of the alcoholic haze that casts a pall over her recollections

Although Ms. Coyne provides a good understanding of the family dysfunction, the past is limited to what Cat either allows herself to remember or is physically capable of recalling with any accuracy. This naturally leaves gaps and unanswered questions which makes the book pulse with realism. Cat is a well-developed character and at first belligerent, obnoxious and rude which makes it difficult to like her early on. But as her story unfolds, her behavior makes sense and I found that instead of feeling only dislike, I couldn't help but feel sorry for her as well. But there were plenty of times I wanted to smack her! Like people from real life, Cat is a complicated, layered character with many attributes that prevent the reader from being able to pigeon hole her with just one adjective. My understanding of Cat was a process that occurred as her story unfolded and my initial dislike and distrust of her developed into caring and respect.

There is little happiness in this novel. It's a bleak, sad and disheartening story for the most part, which some readers might have difficulty accepting. I have first hand experience with child abuse, neglect and domestic violence cases (as a former prosecutor and CPS attorney). This, unfortunately, makes me aware of how realistic stories like this are, and appreciate as much how well written and developed it is. It's a lower middle-class version of the story "Push" by Sapphire which was made into the movie "Precious".

I thought more details as to the family dynamics would have been very helpful in fleshing out some things, such as why, of all the siblings, Cat is the focus of the father's abuse or why Cat's mother didn't protect her. Cat's siblings fill in some of the blanks the few times Cat allows herself to get pulled into a family discussion. But the over-riding sense is that there were some horrific incidents and a dearth of cringe-inducing occurrences which none of the siblings care to recall. It's frightening to think about how many children in our country live in similar circumstances where every day is a struggle.

There are several twist and turns throughout the story. Ms. Coyne is in the habit of ending chapters with a surprising revelation which is then explained further in the one that follows. Although this was interesting the first few times, after that it became a rather tedious and unexciting, the effect of which was to render the new information annoying and anticlimactic.

The Last Bridge is an apt title for this story. An actual bridge figures prominently in Cat's abused and tormented childhood and the theme of bridges as links between the past, present and future are a significant part of the novel. This isn't a story for anyone who wants a happy ending delivered neat and tidy, wrapped in a pretty bow. This is a story for realists who know that lives can be full of pain, sadness and torment but sometimes there's a chance at something better if one is open to friendship and love. Cat has to be brave enough to take a risk, trust herself and another person in the same way the reader has to be willing to take Cat's journey with her.

I received this book from Florinda after I entered and won a wonderful giveaway of 4 books at her blog,
The 3 R's Blog Reading, 'Riting and Randomness. This is the first of the books I've read from that giveaway and I want to say thank you to her for her generosity!


  1. What a great review. I also enjoyed this book and found it very realistic.

  2. Wow, Amy, great review! You said all of the things that I wanted to in my review of this book. I am just not very good at writing reviews! I, too, was irritated with Cat and her running away. I did enjoy the book and thought that Ms. Coyne did a wonderful job of telling Cat's story.

    Have a great weekend!

  3. I think I would enjoy this book but would have to read it at the right time. It sounds pretty intense so I will have to wait for a vacation time when I am feeling more relaxed, I think!

  4. Great review - very insightful! I was reading along, thinking about the points you brought up and remembering my own impressions of the novel...and totally forgot that I'd sent it to you till I got to the end! I hope you enjoy the other books from that box too.

  5. I think I'll wait until after Christmas to read this one since it sounds so bleak.

  6. Jo-Jo: Thank you so much. This book was more intense and complex than I expected and I really liked it.

    Missy B.: Thank you so much, you're so sweet. It took me a little while to write this. There's so much in the story and I kept thinking about it. I finally made myself sit down and start to write. I'm so glad you liked the book, too. Yes, irritated at Cat was exactly what I was, she was too old for all that running away, especially that last time. ugh! I was very surprised this was a debut. I am looking forward to Ms. Coyne's next book!

  7. Kathleen: That sounds like a good idea. This book is more intense than I expected and quite a bit happens. Unfortunately there are too many kids to whom this is a familiar story and too many adults who know what it is to live a life like Cat did. But it doesn't make read ing it any easier. But it's well-written and well told. I hope when you read it you enjoy it!

  8. Florinda: I'm so glad you like my review and agree with it! And thank you for the book! You introduced me to a great author and I'm looking forward to her next book. I am also looking forward to the other books you sent me. They don't all look as intense as this one which is a good thing! Thank you for visiting my blog!

  9. Bermudaonion: It's definitely not a holiday book, Kathy, but it's worth reading. I hope you like it when you read it next year!

  10. This sounds like it would be a great book club read.

  11. Thank you for your insightful review, Amy. Your review definitely has me wanting to read this one.

  12. Lisa: That's a great idea! There's a lot going on here and much for discussion! Do you belong to a book club?

    Literary Feline: Thank you! I liked this book. It's the kind of story I enjoy reading because of the depth of the characters, the relationships and interaction with others and the behavior of some of the characters which interests me a lot. If you have a chance to read this book, I'd love to hear what you think!