I don’t know how I feel about “A Bridge Under Water” by Tom Bissell. The writing is descriptive and just captures the newlywed couple in the story perfectly.

The man loved games of all kinds. Obscure board games, video games manufactured prior to 1990, any and all word games, but he also enjoyed purely biophysical games such as rock, paper, scissors—the “essential fairness” of which he claimed to particularly admire. He was , however, miserably bad at rock, paper, scissors, the reason being that he almost always took paper.

Neither the man or the woman is particularly likeable, however. I admire that they are trying, but both seem selfish at heart, and I can’t really identify with either. They are on their honeymoon, married after only knowing each other for about four months. They got married because she is pregnant, although that won’t admit that’s the reason. Bissell portrays the tension in the relationship well. The argument is oer religion, even though neither is actually religious, but she Jewish and wants their child to know that he/she is a Jew, while he thinks that’s ridiculous and refuses to “live within a household, a family, in which religion played any role other than that of an occasionally bashed piñata.” So the tensions center around religious identity, or lack thereof, but still while in Rome, their site-seeing includes churches and crypts and, as a gesture to her, a synagogue.

I think that part of my problem is that she can’t seem to appreciate the beauty and history of the Christian buildings, which just make her feel sick, or the synagogue which she is bored at. The other thing is he drags her to the churches and cathedrals, knowing she doens’t enjoy them, and yet shows no respect when he is in the synagogue. I just can’t understand either one of them.

But I did enjoy it. It kept me reading. I was invested in the story. The author gives us a full, rich understanding of this relationship of flawed people with their hopes and disappointments. It’s definitely worth reading, although for adults only, in my opinion, due to the sexual issues that are discussed and shown.

“A Bridge Under Water” was first published in AGNI, but I read it in The Best American Short Stories 2011 which can be pre-ordered at Amazon or an Indie Bookstore.

4 out of 5 stars

Book source: Review copy

Short Story Monday