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Across the Bridge (1993)

by Mavis Gallant

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1854107,245 (3.53)2
The first four of the eleven stories in this book are connected, following the fortunes of the Carette family. In "1933" their widowed mother teaches Berthe and Marie to conceal the fact that she was a seamstress, and to say instead that she was "clever with her hands." In "The Chosen Husband" the luckless suitor, Louis, has to undergo the front-parlor scrutiny of Marie's mother and sister: "But then Louis began to cough and had to cover his mouth. He was in trouble with a caramel. The Carettes looked away, so that he could strangle unobserved. 'How dark it is, ' said Berthe, to let him think that he could not be seen." Almost all of the other stories take place in the Paris Mavis Gallant knows so well. "Across the Bridge," the title story, begins with the narrator's mother throwing her reluctant daughter's wedding invitations into the Seine. "I watched the envelopes fall in a slow shower and land on the dark water and float apart. Strangers leaned on the parapet and stared, too, but nobody spoke." A master of contemporary prose - elegant, concise, finely textured - Mavis Gallant never relaxes the tension between detachment and compassion, understanding and mystery, memory and truth. She constantly surprises the reader with her quicksilver perceptions of the moments when people's illusions are revealed and their lives change irrevocably as they form new, necessary illusions. With irony and an unfailing eye for the telling detail, she weaves stories of such intricate simplicity and spare complexity that critics have rightly compared her with Henry James and Anton Chekhov. Across the Bridge is a vintage collection by one of the best short-story writers in the world.… (more)

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There is something very elusive and magical about Mavis Gallant's style. It seems to me that Gallant perfected the use of free indirect discourse in discussing familial groups, a narrative style that links her to other (mostly women) writers all the way back to Jane Austen. Gallant moves in and out of characters' points of view with effortless ease, like a drone that can situate itself anywhere in a scene including the inner souls of the characters, and while doing so, she also mysteriously establishes a group awareness among the characters, of shared thoughts and values...while at the same time also allowing for an ironic exchange between herself and her reader to take place. It's remarkable. Each story is more like a journey around an old house than it is like reading, and you're constantly surprised by what is around the corner. Nowhere is her mastery more apparent imo than in the story "Dede," collected here, where all kinds of random facts and events are built up slowly into a fictional truth where nothing is said and yet everything is revealed. ( )
  poingu | Feb 22, 2020 |
A mostly crufty and bland collection of stories without much heart. A few are somewhat engaging, but even those are underwhelming. The stifling effect of manners, social graces, honor, etc is a recurring theme, but isn't very interesting. ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
Not my favorite Mavis Gallant collection but loved the French Canadian stories . . . they are my people and I saw A LOT of my grandparents in the characters. (Fall River! OOB!) ( )
  beckydj | Nov 30, 2013 |
This is one of those books where I can appreciate the craftsmanship and fine skill of the storywriting, but a year after reading it I remember nothing of the stories or the characters. I wish I could appreciate the stories as much as the critics do. I think I would have thought better of this volume had I read it when I was a young man perusing different writing styles while trying to develop my own. The stories are mostly set in France during a period of mannered and careful courtships. ( )
  burnit99 | Jan 19, 2007 |
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The first four of the eleven stories in this book are connected, following the fortunes of the Carette family. In "1933" their widowed mother teaches Berthe and Marie to conceal the fact that she was a seamstress, and to say instead that she was "clever with her hands." In "The Chosen Husband" the luckless suitor, Louis, has to undergo the front-parlor scrutiny of Marie's mother and sister: "But then Louis began to cough and had to cover his mouth. He was in trouble with a caramel. The Carettes looked away, so that he could strangle unobserved. 'How dark it is, ' said Berthe, to let him think that he could not be seen." Almost all of the other stories take place in the Paris Mavis Gallant knows so well. "Across the Bridge," the title story, begins with the narrator's mother throwing her reluctant daughter's wedding invitations into the Seine. "I watched the envelopes fall in a slow shower and land on the dark water and float apart. Strangers leaned on the parapet and stared, too, but nobody spoke." A master of contemporary prose - elegant, concise, finely textured - Mavis Gallant never relaxes the tension between detachment and compassion, understanding and mystery, memory and truth. She constantly surprises the reader with her quicksilver perceptions of the moments when people's illusions are revealed and their lives change irrevocably as they form new, necessary illusions. With irony and an unfailing eye for the telling detail, she weaves stories of such intricate simplicity and spare complexity that critics have rightly compared her with Henry James and Anton Chekhov. Across the Bridge is a vintage collection by one of the best short-story writers in the world.

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