Books

'The World Is a Narrow Bridge' Is a Metaphysical Pilgrimage for Our Time

If Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens is an artifact of '90s apocalypse hullabaloo notable for its wry wit, petty divine figures, and surrealistic flourishes, then The World Is a Narrow Bridge plays a similar role in our angst-ridden, oversaturated media landscape/world of 2016 and beyond.

The World is a Narrow Bridge
Aaron Thier

Bloomsbury

Jul 2018

Other

For people of a certain political persuasion, the last few years have consisted of being overwhelmed with anger and fright yet too damn exhausted to be able to expend the emotional and mental energy of getting outraged at everything. Aaron Thier's The World Is a Narrow Bridge is a thoughtful, fictional testament to this very mood. While there are key differences in plot and structure, Thier's novel calls to mind Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens (1990), another lightly humorous metaphysical novel that can be read as a reflection of prevailing anxieties and concerns about our existence and the fate of the world. If Good Omens is an artifact of 1990's apocalypse hullabaloo notable for its wry wit, petty divine figures, and surrealistic flourishes, then The World Is a Narrow Bridge plays a similar role in our angst-ridden, oversaturated media landscape/world of 2016 and beyond.

When an appropriately crabby and arrogant Yahweh shows up to Murphy and Eva, demanding that Eva become his prophet and spread his gospel, they take it upon themselves to travel from where they've been wilting in Miami to a journey across the country, trying to find a place they can make their home as they muse upon the task they've been given. (Oddly enough, the mention of social media in the summary of The World Is a Narrow Bridge barely ends up playing out in the novel itself, seeming to me more like a publisher's attempt to be zeitgeisty and pithy than an actual description of what Yahweh asks of Murphy and Eva.)

Murphy and Eva are recognizable types, almost verging towards parody, only to be brought back to size by jewel-like moments of deeper characterization. They're the kind of people who are highly-educated, well-meaning, liberal-leftish NPR listeners, who drive a Prius, who consider themselves open-minded secular humanists, who balance their desire—and ambivalence—towards having a child with whether it's ethical to have a child when everything is on fire, either literally or figuratively. They're the kind of people who believe sincerely in "returning to a natural way of living", but who also may have just read that slogan on a box of raisins—grudgingly accepting of their lives under mass media advertising, while trying to claim originality and sincerity. But the moments where Thier suspends his gentle skewering of the sorts of people Murphy and Eva represent are genuinely wonderful, as when Murphy randomly encounters his younger self in Arizona, a place he'd once visited when he was younger, and attempts to pass on some wisdom but ends up getting schooled. Murphy, a more anxious soul than Eva, is incredibly relatable as he tries to square with the idea that he should have something to offer a more naïve version of himself but that he ultimately doesn't have the kind of answers he wishes he did.

Following the path of Murphy and Eva's cross-country road trip, The World Is a Narrow Bridge is a purposefully meandering read. Good Omens hurtles towards the aversion of a fiery end of the world; The World Is a Narrow Bridge, however, is as rudderless as its characters in search of something meaningful. It tells a story about wandering aimlessly while literally wandering and digressing in a narrative sense, dipping and curving along pathways of thought and philosophy, jumping among seeming non sequiturs that charm as often as they frustrate. You have to almost take it paragraph by paragraph, accepting that you'll go from a chunk of text about Eva and Murphy in a motel to a mini-explainer of some of the steps involved in opening up your own motel, down to the price on each mattress if you order them in bulk. The structure of the prose matches the plot of the story, which is stylistically clever but doesn't translate into seamless enjoyment.

And yet the way Thier structures his narrative also simulates the experience of being continually distracted with the great glut of information beaming into our heads via social media and 24-hour cable news, branching off from the storyline into small digressions of partially related or tangentially linked factoids, or rhetorical questions. Trying to read The World Is a Narrow Bridge for the plotline alone, then, mirrors the effects of trying to read or focus on anything for a prolonged period of time; we get distracted, we click on interesting hyperlinks that open another tab or window, meaning that we continually lose the thread and must click back to where we were hoping to go in the first place. Thier's novel carries out this function in a literal way, as if acknowledging our short attention spans, knowing that we might be distracted by something while reading, so he might as well provide the distraction anyway before guiding us back to the point.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.