Book Talk: “The Last Bridge,” by Teri Coyne

I received an Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) of this book for review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program. The book was published in July 2009 and is currently available in bookstores.

The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne

The Last Bridge: A Novel
Teri Coyne
Ballantine Books, 2009 (hardcover) (ISBN 0345507312 / 9780345507310)
Fiction, 240 pages

First sentence: Two days after my father had a massive stroke my mother shot herself in the head.
Book description: After a ten-year absence, Alex ‘Cat’ Rucker returns to her Ohio hometown because of a letter left on her mother’s kitchen table – a suicide note, carefully preserved in a Ziploc® bag, that reads:

‘He isn’t who you think he is. Love, Mom’

While Alex tries to repress the memories of her brutal childhood – an abusive father, her estranged (and possibly illegitimate) brother, and the first love who would do anything to save her – she must face just how shattered she still is. At each step Alex confronts her biggest fears, realizes the impact of her choices, and inches closer to redemption. Can she embrace her vulnerabilities, talents, and desire for love, or will the revelations of her mother’s cryptic note prove too overwhelming for her to bear?

Comments: Teri Coyne’s first novel is a fast read, but far from an easy one. She has given her protagonist, Alex “Cat” Rucker, a slew of issues, and a storyline that’s meant to force her to start confronting them. The title refers to an actual bridge on her family’s property, but it’s also a reference to the bridges Cat has burned – and those she hasn’t quite been able to.

Cat (real name Alexandra, nicknamed “Alley Cat” as a child, later shortened to “Cat”) has spent the last ten years trying to leave her hometown and family behind. She’s been in and out of college and a series of dead-end jobs, and the one constant in her life has been alcohol. But if you don’t deal with your baggage, you just keep bringing it wherever you go. When she’s called back home with the news that her mother has killed herself and left a suicide note addressed to Cat, the baggage comes along.

Her mom’s final message, “He isn’t who you think he is,” could apply to several men in Cat’s life, and could be literal or metaphorical. Cat’s father, who is now in a coma, singled her out for unwelcome attention from the time she was a child. Her brother Jared, named after her parents’ best friend, tried to protect her, but they haven’t spoken in seven years. Addison, the son of the aforementioned best friend, has his own history with Cat, and the guy from the coroner’s office seems to have known her mother surprisingly well.

Cat’s a vivid character, one with a heartbreaking history and a frustrating present. I found her sympathetic, complex, and not always likable. Her way of dealing with the horror is not dealing, and while it’s understandable in a lot of ways, it got tiring for me to keep seeing her getting close to something and then running away, sometimes literally and sometimes into a drunken stupor.Eventually she does push through, though, and it’s rewarding. There’s real hope for recovery and growth.

Teri Coyne reveals increasingly dark family secrets throughout this well-paced, fairly short novel, but I felt that she left some unanswered questions. For me, the biggest of these was exactly what motivated Cat’s father to single her out for his abusive attentions – why not her sister, or why not both of them? And while I found Coyne’s spare writing style appealing, and appropriate to the story she was telling, there were parts I would have liked to have seen fleshed out a bit more. Still, she has given us a suspenseful, character-driven page-turner, and I’ll be interested to see where her writing career goes from here.

Rating: 3.5/5

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  1. I read an interview that the author participated in and apparently she used to be a stand-up comic. Surprising, huh?

  2. Ti – There are some good lines from some of the characters, and there's a bit of black humor in parts of the novel, but…stand-up comic? No, I would NOT have pegged that one.

    Kathy (Bermudaonion) – It packs a lot in, I must say.

    I'm not sure there really is an answer to that question most of the time, but I would have liked to understand it a little better.

  3. Anna – It doesn't feel "heavy" while you're reading it, if that makes sense; it's a page-turner. But it does get into some pretty heavy stuff.