A new collection of stories by Mavis Gallant is always a major publishing event. For this is the writer who–like Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro–has made Canadian short stories a presence on the world literary scene, and on our bestseller lists.
In Across the Bridge four of the eleven stories are connected, following the fortunes of the Carette family in Montreal. In “1933” their widowed mother teaches Berthe and Marie to deny 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-parlour 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 he could not be seen.”
We then follow their marriage, the birth of Raymond, and Raymond’s flight from his mother and aunt to his eventual role as a motel manager in Florida. “‘The place was full of Canadians,’ he said. ‘They stole like raccoons...’”
With the exception of “The Fenton Child,” an eerie story set in postwar Montreal, 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.”
This is a superb collection of stories by a writer at the top of her form.