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Bridge to Normal


Eager to read Wilhelmina Fitzpatrick’s “Bridge to Normal” (Killick Press), I opened it up while it was still hot off the press, took one glance at the text then slammed it shut.

Bridge to Normal

Months later while shifting through my stack of unread novels, I happened across “Bridge to Normal” again. Because I had enjoyed Wilhelmina Fitzpatrick’s earlier novels, I decided to give “Bridge to Normal” a second chance. Squat down at the bottom of my unread pile I flipped to page one and commenced reading. Before I was halfway down the page, I cast the book aside.

A year or so passed.

On hands and knees searching for something to read, I hauled “Bridge to Normal” from its position near the bottom of the still-unread stack. Determined to read it this time, I lugged it off to my La-Z-Boy, positioned my reading glasses on the end of my nose, spread the novel’s pages …

… and squinted at the tiny print.

The itsy-bitsy print is the reason I hadn’t read this book a year ago. The small print [!] was — still is — intimidating and likely to spook hesitant readers, especially if their eyes are old or if they have any vision difficulties whatsoever.

I truly don’t understand why a publisher would produce a book with such eensy-weensy spidery print. Surely miniscule print — print tinier than a dwarf black gnat — has a negative impact on sales.

To make certain I wasn’t simply being my — according to even those who love me — recognizably curmudgeon self, I found my copy of Fitzpatrick’s “Mercy of St. Jude,” peeped inside …

… and saw lovely, visible-to-sexagenarian-eyes print.

All the above being said, I still wanted to read “Bridge to Normal” because I knew I would like the story. So I uncapped an economy-sized bottle of lubricating eye drops and tackled the task.   

I’m glad I persevered.

As usual, Wilhelmina Fitzpatrick has written a five-star yarn.

Bridgina Ashe wishes her family were normal.

There’s small chance of that ever being so considering the dysfunctional natures of her rum-and-Coke drinking mother, her reclusive thirty-something sister and her chain-smoking, slightly addle-pated father.

Normal being out of the question in Exile Cove, the minute she’s finished high school Bridgina tans ‘er for MUN thinking she will find a normal life at university, sharing rent with her friends Katie and Sylvia.

What do you think happens?

Although academically successful, Bridgina still doesn’t feel that she’s quite … well, normal. She lacks self-confidence. She feels unattractive. Stuff like that. Until …

…until she meets Iggy Connors.

Pull your perspective back a bit. Imagine you are a concerned parent or, perhaps someone watching Bridgie Meets Iggy: The Movie. Your instinct, your impulse, will be to grab Bridgina by the shoulders, give ‘er a shake and say, “Maid, stay clear of the likes of him.”

You think she’d listen?

Anyway, Bridgina meets Iggy and ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah.

As she moves through life, Bridgina has one possession that she carries with her from place to place — a poster of that “Desiderata” poem. You know the one that begins, “Go placidly amid the noise and haste …” and eventually — despite what anyone might think otherwise — assures us that “… no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

 Listen to Bridgina at an extremely low point in her life: “What I wanted more than anything, however, was for someone to tell me that everything was okay, that everything would be okay.”

… that the universe was unfolding as it should, I s’pose.

Oftentimes a story is so much like LOTP — Life On This Planet — that it hurts to read it. Reflections of our own lives appear so clearly that — no matter the print size — our vision blurs and our stomachs seize.

Why then, do we continue to read such books and pronounce them good?

We do so because they are fascinating, in a painful, gut-twisting way.

Kinda like picking scabs, eh b’ys?

“Bridge to Normal” is such a book.

You know something? Over a lifetime I’ve fallen in love with dozens of women writers. Truly.

For instance, back in 1970 I discovered a novel called “A Slipping Down Life” and immediately fell in love with its young author — Anne Tyler. We’ve both aged but I still love Anne, although I doubt she knows it.

Obviously, Bridge to Normal has reminded me of “A Slipping Down Life.” And you know what? If Wilhelmina Fitzpatrick continues to write such superlative novels — and if my eyesight holds out — I’m liable to fall in love with her.

Thank you for reading.

 

Harold Walters is a retired teacher living in Dunville, Placentia Bay. He can be reached by email at

ghwalters663@gmail.com.

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