Bridge of Sand

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In this beautifully written novel, Burroway uses a woman’s personal loss, coincident with 9/11, to explore race, territory, and renewal.

Dana, the widow of a Pennsylvania senator, buries her husband the morning of 9/11, only miles from the United 93 crash. After months of paralysis, she sells her house and heads south in an effort to pick up the lost strands of her youth.

Finding that her grandmother’s house is now gone, replaced by a strip ...

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Overview

In this beautifully written novel, Burroway uses a woman’s personal loss, coincident with 9/11, to explore race, territory, and renewal.

Dana, the widow of a Pennsylvania senator, buries her husband the morning of 9/11, only miles from the United 93 crash. After months of paralysis, she sells her house and heads south in an effort to pick up the lost strands of her youth.

Finding that her grandmother’s house is now gone, replaced by a strip mall, she phones an old acquaintance. Cassius Huston is black, separated from a harridan of a wife, and devoted to his three-year-old daughter.Much to their surprise, Cassius and Dana fall in love. But when Dana is threatened by Cassius’s family, she flees to the Gulf Coast, where she finally finds herself, and her life, in a place and culture she never could have anticipated.

Set amid the blur of 9/11, this wise, beautifully written novel of love, race, territory, and renewal explores the issues that challenge us all.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR JANET BURROWAY

“Dazzling . . . Like John Updike, she can eke out the poisonous beauty of suburban routine. Even her most  ordinary characters are capable of unusual panache and  introspection.”—Washington Post

Publishers Weekly

Burroway is best known for her textbook, Writing Fiction, but in this novel she demonstrates that even skillful writers can stumble. On September 11, 2001, Dana Cleveland sees a distant column of smoke through the window of the limousine carrying her to her husband's funeral. She'll later learn the smoke was from Flight 93, providing the first of many invocations of 9/11 that serve no purpose other than to undermine what would otherwise be a decent novel. Dana leaves Pennsylvania to revisit her roots, and while searching out her grandmother's home in Georgia, she hooks up with childhood infatuation Cassius Huston, who is black, separated from his wife, has a daughter and belongs to a large family who would not approve of Dana, who is white. When the wife threatens Dana, she flees to Pelican Bay, Fla., where she quickly becomes entrenched in the mostly working-class community and grapples with problems that test her in ways she's never anticipated. The complexities of Dana's and Cassius's relationship and of Pelican Bay are finely wrought, but Burroway's exploration of socioeconomic angst is marred by the novel's ghoulish references to 9/11. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Dana is at a loss after burying her husband, a Pennsylvania senator, a few miles from the United 93 crash on 9/11. Her marriage had almost ended when Graham was diagnosed with cancer, and she nursed him to the end before beginning the task of selling her home. Originally from the South, she heads back to Georgia, aimlessly driving and thinking about her future. She decides to visit her grandmother's house, only to find it has been turned into a strip mall. Once again at loose ends, she looks up old friend Cassius Huston, and they begin an affair, which is problematic because she is white, and he is black. After receiving a vitriolic letter from his ex, Dana moves on, eventually heading west. Little does she realize that this move will lead to a life-changing event. Burroway, the author of Writing Fiction, among the most widely used creative writing texts in the country, crafts memorable characters while challenging readers' assumptions about race, love, and family. For fans of social issues novels.
—Robin Nesbitt

Kirkus Reviews
A politician's widow rediscovers herself in the Deep South. Dana Cleveland buries her cancer-stricken husband on the morning of 9/11, mere miles from the United 93 crash site. She'd been intending to leave Graham before he got sick, and now she decides to leave the location of her unhappy marriage; Pennsylvania, she tells a friend, "is where I unbecame." In an unoriginal literary conceit, Dana returns to her deceased grandmother's small hometown in Georgia to "pick up the threads." There, she reconnects with Cassius Huston, an impressionable black man she barely knew when they worked together at the local grocery back in high school. The two fall quickly and incredulously in love. Burroway (Cutting Stone, 1992, etc.) has obvious literary chops, but there's not enough plot to keep the pages turning. The 9/11 imagery punctuates the narrative in a morbid, useless way. The romance has a sweet but weak premise, and the obstacles to Cassius and Dana's love tip toward melodramatic. When threatened by Cassius's family, Dana (who is white) flees to Cassius's estranged aunt in the Florida panhandle. Throughout her Southern venture, and while waiting around for the undependable Cassius to show up, Dana feels the black-white racial divide profoundly. Readers may feel that Barack Obama's presidential victory somewhat weakens the novel's major point: that overwhelming racism in the present-day United States prevents certain achievements. It's also a problem that Dana's ruminations, rather than compelling events, drive most of the story. It doesn't help that she and Cassius are rather tired protagonists with thinly evoked personalities. Thankfully, they are surrounded by spunkier characters, includingDana's sassy best friend and Cassius's evil but spirited kin. Still, the drama arrives too late, and the ending feels too abrupt. Neither excites nor inspires.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151015436
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/25/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

JANET BURROWAY is the author of seven novels and two texts on creative writing. Her Writing Fiction, now in its seventh edition, is the most widely used creative writing text in the United States. She divides her time among Tallahassee, London, and Wisconsin.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Smoke hurled itself up out of a field a couple of miles to the north, toward Shanksville. Up ahead was a white farmhouse with a crooked chimney and, nearer the road, a boy and a dog staring, the boy’s hand on the dog’s head like a piece of Americana hokum.
     Phoebe said, "If that’s a controlled burn, they’ve lost control of it."
     Dana said, "It’s the wrong color for a burn." 
     They were side-by-side on the backseat of the limo, both still stupefied by the fumes that poured from the collapsing towers on their TV screens not two hours ago. Dana thought of the crematorium where they were headed; and it also came to her that the smoke out the window—not mushroom shaped but rather like an oak in summer, thick trunked and burgeoning—was the color called taupe or mole, which is a good color for the upholstery of a mortuary limousine (her fingers splayed on the seat beside her) but not a good color for a burning field. 
     But the possibility did not occur to her that the ash was mixed with Pennsylvania dirt and limestone spewed from a thirty-foot crater made by the nose cone of a plane where another forty-four had been pulverized. It was only later, when she understood her place as an incidental widow—her experience, whatever it would have been, shunted aside by general catastrophe—that she thought how one thing follows on another, how nothing keeps something else from happening, how foolishly we suppose that we have earned respite, that Armageddon will not be followed by emergency, that because the car is totaled the pipes won’t burst.
     A mirror was mounted on the window between them and the driver—mourners need to check their mascara—and it gave back her blanched face, brown hair lopped at the chin, regular and unremarkable features except for a full, mobile mouth, out of which it would (and did) surprise anyone to hear an acerbic remark. A good face for a politician’s wife. Whereas her friend Phoebe, a lawyer in her own right, had a glimmering black coif and high color, interesting bones. Wit fit her. It was Phoebe who wore the mascara.
     Dana said, "What if I threw a funeral and nobody came?"
     And Phoebe: "Do you want to cancel?"
     At which Dana lifted her hands far enough off the upholstery to suggest the pointlessness; and Phoebe let out her disconsolate bark of a laugh, and the limo hit pothole after pothole on the weatherbeaten turnpike west toward Somerset.
     She had hated him, and then he died.

No, it was more complicated than that. They had met in college, bantered, flirted, become infatuated, married, and were disillusioned; then he slowly came to disregard her, and they lost a baby, and she came to dislike and then to scorn him, until shockingly before his fortieth birthday he was diagnosed with an already-metastasized colon cancer, and she nursed him gently, dutifully, until he died.
     No, but it was more complicated. Graham Scott Ullman had in ways she could no longer remember reminded her of her father (who was also a Republican, though in midcentury mode). At Pitt he had financed himself by inventing a kind of dating service for potential roommates. His entrepreneurial enthusiasm was (like her father’s) infectious. He got in on the business side of a nerd-rich software start-up, and when OmniOptions, Inc., went public he took his cut and his place on the board and went public also, into the Somerset County Council and then into the State Senate. He was still a banterer, and Dana only gradually realized that the banter was always at someone’s expense, and that banter is not the same thing as conversation, and that the cleverness he most admired tended toward spin and scam.
     She was not a bad politician’s wife. Art history is a classy background with no threat attached. She’d spent most of her childhood in the backseat of a Chevy Malibu and knew how to be still while bored. She could cook, and liked to, and playing hostess kept her from having to talk too long to anyone. Through two campaigns and two terms in Harrisburg, she did volunteer things that were good for Graham’s career without committing her to one of her own, mostly in libraries and children’s wards; and she supposed she would be a stay-at-home mother when the time came to stay at home.
     She got at last joyfully pregnant, but faltered in the third trimester with toxemia. Her calves and ankles swelled. She was hospitalized at thirty weeks and gave birth a week later to a girl—they named her Chloe—whose heart was faulty and who died at two days old.
     Since she had known, held, watched Chloe for less than forty hours, people, including Graham, supposed the trauma was of a generic nature. But for Dana the little girl was so uniquely formed, so particularly her infant self—the broad translucent toenails, the fully articulated lifeline in her palm, the feathery blue burst of iris, the kidney-shaped mole under her left ear—that though she and Graham had always agreed about cremation, Dana could not commit her baby to the flames. They buried her in a country graveyard near Somerset.
     Dana had long ago given up both her father’s hope of paradise and her mother’s promise of reincarnation. The heaven she most admired was tempera on Renaissance ceiling plaster. Nothing in her experience suggested that the personality would cohere beyond the body. On the contrary, recycling seemed the fundamental principle: nothing blooms but through decay. She believed only and absolutely in immortality at the subatomic level, and considered the nitrogen cycle sufficient marvel, sufficient glory.
     But that had not been put to the test, and now it was. Tentatively, and then fiercely, she embraced Chloe’s dispersal into the universe. She lay awake at night allowing herself to contemplate the little body in its batiste dress in its maple coffin, welcoming the insects and the ooze, not flinching from the translucent larvae, the self-generating maggots. She gathered this corruption in her arms and crooned to it. She held it to her heart. She lived the teeming, and then the subsiding, and then the still, ashen entropy of the beloved matter. Toenails, palms, iris, mole. Dust to dust. And then she slept.
     Dust motes danced in the morning sun when she woke.
     Night after night she did this. She did not speak of it.
     Their friends were very kind, and appropriately promised healing and acceptance. But for Dana it was not the baby but her marriage that had died. Chloe rotting seemed supremely vital, whereas the inert weight of her days with Graham was revealed to her, the mechanical eroticism of their sex, the rote moral disconnect of their conversation, none of which could be raised again to semblance of a life.
     So it is perhaps an enigma that, eight months later, as she was gathering herself to leave Graham and found that he was leaving her instead, she felt no hesitation in devoting herself wholly, for the first time, to her husband. He was her patient. She was patient. Quiescence again came easily to her, and she lived in postponement as in a cushioned space. She listened to his long denial and his scattershot anger and his surprisingly brief fears. When there was no further treatment, she brought him home, where he lay for two months on a rose-colored sofa decreasingly coherent and then decreasingly conscious while she patiently, arduously, unresentfully took care of him.
     He had been apparently comatose for a week or so when she came in from an omelet supper in the kitchen, to find him, eyes closed, one index finger raised from the blanket.
     Smiling, he said, "Mushrooms."
     And at this evidence of continuing appetite, the mystery of the persistence of the pleasure of the senses, for the first time she wept, and perhaps for the first time truly loved him.

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