Books

The Elegant Tale in 'Invisible Bridge' Builds a Bridge to the Past

Darren Sexto
Elisabeth bridge (partial), Budapest, 1930s found on Eutopia.be
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

In the expansive tradition of Pasternak or Tolstoy, Orringer seduces us for a couple of hundred pages with love, food, wine, ballet, cafes, parties, theater, beauty, culture.


The Invisible Bridge

Publisher: Random House
Length: 624 pages
Author: Julie Orringer
Price: $26.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2010-05
Amazon

At what point did the sweeping epic — novels steeped in grand gestures, fictional worlds in which innocents are buffeted by the inevitability of history, tales of foreign cultures, extreme good and the darkest evil — become old-fashioned?

Outside of the classics, access to that type of literature is no longer common. In fact, when it does happen, it tends to be boxed into the conventions of genre fiction: stout paperbacks on the romance, fantasy or, yes, young-adult bookshelves.

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer is a rare achievement, a hefty and compellingly readable piece of literature that, published mere weeks ago, feels as if it pre-dates the author's own 37 years. This doesn't make Orringer better than her contemporaries currently spinning novels that are just as smartly crafted — Adam Haslett, Nicole Krauss, Jonathan Safran Foer, Brady Udall and the newly celebrated Tom Rachman quickly leap to mind — it just makes her undertaking all the more interesting.

There is nothing modern in her telling. Instead, Orringer has returned to the basics of storytelling. In Andras Levi, she molds a classic protagonist, an architecture student humble in his talent and awed by the Paris of the late 1930s, where he is sent from Hungary on scholarship to the Ecole Speciale.

While this early setting is an excuse to define Andras and to set in motion his affair with the (also Hungarian) nine-years-older ballet mistress Klara (and, yes, much is made of that age difference), it feels more like an opportunity for the author to once again marry the word Paris to romance and to re-create a world with which we have become all too familiar.

In the expansive tradition of Pasternak or Tolstoy, Orringer seduces us for a couple of hundred pages with love, food, wine, ballet, cafes, parties, theater, beauty, culture. Big, passionate ideas illustrated in so much masterly detail that we can taste and smell and see.

She also creates conflict out of the mundane — will Klara's teenage daughter stonewall Andras and Klara's ultimate happiness? — because we know there is a rumbling in the background. History has worse things in store for these two. After all, Andras is Jewish. And Klara has secrets.

As with any fine epic, narrative thrust is deliciously dependent on those secrets. It's no surprise, and no spoiler is needed here because of it, that Andras and Klara must be separated. The "portrait of a lost world" must become, well, lost. After all, we have hundreds of pages to go... a devastating war, a most horrific period of recent world history and a pulse-quickening conclusion ahead.

Now turn again to the author's glamorous and youthful photo: She wrote this? Orringer's 2003 award-winning short-story collection, How to Breathe Underwater, more than hinted at significant talent, but nothing was there to predict such a wide net. Here, she stitches with suchprecision and skill that it defies pointing to any one sentence here, any one paragraph there, as an example of her fine work. The Invisible Bridge is dense with a master's intelligence.

The flaw in the system, in fact, may be that very competence of language and structure. This story of Andras and Klara is, frankly, so chock full of carefully constructed beauty that it occasionally emits gloss and sterility. Something to admire, not always something to touch.

What a relief it will be to see what Orringer creates next. The Invisible Bridge weighted as it is with the stuff of classic novels, points to a career that, by all accounts, is capable of soaring beyond the epic.

9

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image