When I work with my students at whatever community college I’m teaching a class or two or three for slave wages, I tell them when critiquing a poem or story or movie or painting to start with the first thing the writer/ artist gives you. They usually give me a blank stare before I say, “The title. Always start with the title. Don’t skip the obvious first step in trying to understand a work of art.” In reviewing Dimitris Lyacos’ dynamic, genre-defying, drama-poem-prose-amalgam, I start with the title because it gives concrete meaning to an often dizzy, introspective, and extremely fragmentary recounting of desperate longing for love (aren’t most works of art about longing for love in some way, shape, or form?). With the people from the bridge tells us exactly that the protagonist of this work (the second of three related volumes) is psychologically and concretely hovering between places. That’s what bridges are—a physical means of connection, but rarely a destination itself. The nameless protagonist hangs out with the people from the bridge and watches his drama in a sad, melancholy world which reflects his lost love. He sits “on the floor among the others, ten, more or less, some of them with their dogs.” Walls are crumbling. Folks huddle around fires in barrels to keep warm. The vision is dystopian (I really wanted to avoid using that over-used word but it fits). What follows are fragments, many, many fragments, biblical, disjointed, introspective, and, at bottom, reflective of his longing for his dead lover: “Hurts again. Wait a bit until it goes. Sometimes you hear her. One on top of the other. Like a wave inside you, all of a sudden.” And later: “She wants to come out. A box and something moving inside it, open it. Bones, earth. Close it. Open it. Same again. You leave and go back to it again. Why though?”
The protagonist longs for his dead lover. The words are fragmentary because he’s a fragment, not whole. The action takes place beneath a bridge because a bridge is more of a non-place than a place. He’s in transition. That’s what longing is—lingering in loss and wallowing in often desperate need to be made whole (an apt description of the human condition). So beyond the umpteen sentence fragments and the post-modern, genre-bending, mind-trippy narrative, we have a simple love story, or, rather, a story of lost love. Our protagonist is between lives, on a bridge, in a sort of sad stasis, and the experimental narrative dramatically illustrates the agony in which he suffers. I really want the protagonist to walk across this bridge to a happier reality (perhaps in the third volume?).
I recommend With the people from the bridge because Lyacos delivers a story in which we can all relate. We all have or will experience loss. The vehicle in which he takes the reader on this sad journey is unique (and the genre is…heck if I know), which is a good thing. I like works of art that aren’t easily definable. I also like journeys that are fragmentary because all of our journeys are fragmentary. We’re all trying to get somewhere or to someone. We’re all on a bridge.
Chris Duncan is the fiction editor of RRR.