Have you heard about Markus Zuzak’s new book Bridge of Clay? You probably have because the whole world loved The Book Thief and have waited forever. No really, it’s been thirteen years. That’s the first red flag.
When I heard Mr. Zuzak was publishing a new book I was excited because I loved the writing of The Book Thief. I thought the plot wasn’t that original or exciting but the style was awesome. I also loved I Am the Messenger because the story was so off beat and interesting. If we could have a book that married the amazing prose of The Book Thief with a charming plot like I Am the Messenger, we might have a contender for Favorite Book.
But it was not to be. I read an interview on Goodreads where Zuzak said he had been trying to write this book since he was really young and he agonized over everything, making sure it was perfect. Uh-oh. Red Flag number two. Something that personal does not usually translate. Mostly it’ll resonate with, well, you. Despite this reservation I gave it a shot.
What we have here is a failure to communicate. I read about half of the book and I have no idea what we’re supposed to be getting from it. We start out with five boisterous teenage boys taking care of themselves with a bunch of animals running around. That was actually the part I liked. They were interesting, I liked the way they interacted, each with his own unique personality. Enter the deadbeat father who asks them if they’d like to come with him out to the middle of nowhere and build a bridge. Um, okay. So one of them decides it’d be a good idea to quit school and go to the middle of nowhere with a man he hardly knows to dig holes in the hot sun so they can put a bridge over a mostly dry river bed. Um, okaaayyy…
Most of the 250 pages I read didn’t even have anything to do with Clay or his brothers. It was all about their mother’s childhood behind the Iron Curtain and how she got to Australia and their father’s childhood and how he married one girl and then got divorced. Why do I care?
I’m sorry, but you introduced a whole group of really interesting characters and then left them for half a book to talk about their parents’ pasts? What does that have to do with anything? Not to mention this is supposed to be a first person narrative. The narrator is the oldest brother who isn’t seeing any of this first hand and yet writes like he has intimate knowledge.
To me, this book was a mess. I think this is what happens when a story marinates too long in the writer’s head. He gets too close and loses perspective. Zuzak wanted to convey some awesome family saga with great points about healing and forgiveness but really it’s just a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.
As much as it pains me to say it, I think Mr. Zuzak missed the mark this time. I would give this one a wide berth.