"It's funny, I guess, how confessions come out:
We admit to almost everything, and the almost is all that counts."
I will begin this by saying, that while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, yadda, yadda, If you don't like this book, nay, love it, I will fight you. Seriously. After school we'll meet at the bike rack and I will TAKE. YOU. DOWN.
Okay, that might not be true, but I will question your devotion to reading and commitment to understanding less than straightforward text. Bridge of Clay is literature, the kind of literature that will find its way into the classroom within the next few years. I think it was a mistake to label this as a YA novel. It has more in common with Catch-22 than traditional YA. In part, yes, that is because this text is dense, but more importantly because this novel speaks about the things that make us human and tie us to one another well beyond the teen and young adult years. It is the story of five brothers, their parents, friends, loves, and a cat, dog, goldfish, pigeon and mule. Told in Michael's (the oldest brother's) voice, he switches between first person and omniscient narrator (although it becomes clear he has learned much of the story after the fact) and it focuses primarily on the fourth brother, Clay.
Is this novel or epic poem? Everything about this book is lyrical, sometimes literally. Take this:
"To the boy her hair was sunny.
Her Body was warm and slim."
Then there's a three line paragraph, followed by:
"When she played he put his head there.
The stick-thin thighs belonged to him."
Beyond these rhymes, there's internal rhyme in many areas. What I've seen reviewers call "bloated prose" is what the rest of us call poetry. Poetry perfectly balanced with blasphemy and funny moments like when the boys eat their dinner without shirts and Tommy, the youngest son, says "'Hey! Hey, Dad! What are you doing here in just your nipples?'"
There are several themes/metaphors that run throughout the book: the bridge, horse racing, and art. Several characters are obsessed with a fictional book on the life of Michelangelo called "The Quarryman." Through descriptions of the book we learn about David, Michelangelo's crowning achievement in sculpture, housed in a room of a Florentine museum set up to draw attention to its every perfect detail, and a set of four sculptures set in a hallway in the same museum with four statues collectively known as "The Slaves." You can look at these four real statues by Michelangelo online. The four figures are beautiful nude studies, left incomplete (some say on purpose), so that they appear to be trying to break free of the stone in which they're bound. The Atlas already appears to be bearing the weight of the world upon his shoulders. The book is referred to often, but it is only in relation to the characters' lives that we see the struggle given shape.
"'I'd die to find greatness, like the David someday - even just for a moment... But I know - I know...'
It hit them both hard, but he had to.
'We live the lives of the Slaves.'"
Like Catch-22, Bridge of Clay, uses a scattered timeline, often it seems, to avoid confronting pain, and the Dunbar boys have plenty of pain to deal with. Michael, as the narrator, has to work his way around to the painful things he needs to say. He tells the stories that put it off. He foreshadows and hints. But always there is an air of melancholy to this book from the first word. It is a book built on the pain of living, but as the brother Rory says,"'He needs to hurt nearly enough to kill him,' he said, 'because that how we Goddamn live'"