"A Bridge Under Water” by TomBissell
As I was reading “Ceiling” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I found it thoroughly absorbing and very compelling. The reading propelled me all the way through without stop and then left me pondering its implications. I also found myself comparing and contrasting it with another story I read last semester with a similar bend to it involving the MC’s dissatisfaction with his marriage. In that work however, the MC comes across as self-consumed and egotistical, with no concept of reality. Because of this the reader doesn’t identify with him but mocks him. In contrast, Ceiling finds you in many ways relating with the characters.
The theme of “what-if,” in life and in literature, is not at all new. This is because it is something that almost every person has experienced at one time or another.
"In life, every crossroad, every choice, opens the door to a life shadowed with the thought of “what-if”; and with “what-if” dogging your steps like a tired pack mule, does anyone really get a “what-if-free” happy ending?” (Come What May, Laura A. Diaz, 2009)
And so, throughout the reading I wondered if our MC would get his happy ending or not. Or, are “happy endings” more determined by frame of mind and attitude toward life in general? What would be an ideal closing for this short story (since in short stories we rarely get ‘ideal’ closure)?
A couple of lines that I found most interesting were near the end at the party when the narrator tells us, “But the tentative fear in her eyes silenced him. Her insecurity was so great and so ordinary” (pg.12).
What is at the heart of Obinze’s discontent? Maybe a clue is on pg. 9 when we read in regards to an unsent email, “She was the only person who would understand, yet he was afraid that she would feel contempt for the person he had become.”
With no real closure to this past relationship, she becomes idealized in his mind. A part of who he was. Perhaps, who he truly misses is himself; but since this woman was such an intricate part of that self she is wrapped up in this melancholy reminiscing because she reminds him of that “self” he used to be. Perhaps this is what is causing the tension in his marriage.
“A Bridge Under Water” by Tom Bissell
Our second story, A bridge under water, was equally fascinating for me. And it wasn’t until I read it through that I began pondering the title. Titles, for some odd reason, interest me. The first random thought was that the title reminded me of Paul Simon’s song, “A bridge over trouble water.” In that reference, “troubled water” is symbolic of the troubles that we have in life. “The bridge” represents how we overcome these troubles. So, that said, I found it very interesting that our bridge is under water!
If the bridge is under the water is that foreshadowing that the newlyweds aren’t going to get over their “troubled waters?”
In that sense, you have to ask what exactly those “trouble waters” are then. In this story the narrative gives me the feeling that the two really do not have a healthy mutual respect of one another.
For example, the man has his wife going with him to all these “Christian” buildings and such when he knows she doesn’t like it. Selfish behavior. When she expresses this dislike again (the narrative implies that this subject has been raised before) he says, “Because I think this discomfort of yours is ridiculous” (pg.38). The statement comes off as very rude and uncaring. This is very odd given the fact they are newlyweds. It is also very odd given the fact that he is a professed atheist?! Is he doing it only to punish her? And if that is so, to punish her for what? For getting pregnant so that he felt he needed to marry her?
There seems to be SO much symbolism and detail packed tight into this very short story. For example, the creative way the author reveals to us the differing, at-odds personalities of our characters by giving us a vivid picture of the way they eat! From the fast, messy way he eats, to the slow, precise way the woman eats in the opening scene, “ She has plunged her fork exactly ten times into her strawberry risotto and taken two birdfeeder sips from the glass…”(pg.32)
The ending was more depressing for me that the first story mentioned. And the word choice by the author facilitated just that:
“-and she knew this, this sound, this sound of different hopes collapsing, of separate divinities forming, of exclusion, of closed doors, of one story’s end.”
The wording is fantastic and very symbolic. Of course, I suppose it could be said that “one story’s end” (the end of each of their individual hopes and dreams for life) could be the beginning of a new one. The beginning of their new life as a married couple. In that sense, perhaps there is still hope for them. For me, it is that “unknown” aspect that makes a great short story though; because it is what keeps the story in the readers mind and has them contemplating how it relates to their own life.
The Best of American Short Stories 2011
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Boston. New York 2011