Bridge: A Novel of Suspense is a novel that absolutely deserves its seemingly superfluous sub-title. The latest book from Shining Girls author Lauren Beukes, Bridge pulls off a similar track to that rightly acclaimed novel by spinning a pulse-pounding cat-and-mouse chase that unfolds in a curiously non-linear fashion—without losing any of the tension typically associated with a more standard cause-and-effect-type story. In Shining Girls, Beukes did that with a time-traveling misogynist serial killer; in Bridge, we follow a daughter desperately jumping across realities in hopes of reuniting with her dead mother, while a different sort of serial killer (or possibly dimensional guardian?) pursues her across every reality.
In other words: this is a novel of suspense! And one that I simply could not put down. Did I mention there are parasitic worms involved as well?
Here's the official synopsis:
It was a game they played; the other worlds, the other lives. It was part of her mom's grand delusions. It wasn't real. Unless it was…
Bridget Kittinger has always been paralyzed by choices. It has a lot to do with growing up in the long shadow of her mother, Jo, a troubled neuroscientist. Jo's obsession with one mythical object, the "dreamworm"—which she believed enabled travel to other worlds—led to their estrangement.
Now, suddenly, Jo is dead. And in packing up her home, Bridge finds a strange device buried deep in Jo's freezer: the dreamworm. Against all odds, it actually can open the door—to all other realities, and to all other versions of herself, too. Could Bridge find who she should be in this world, by visiting the others? And could her Jo still be alive somewhere? But there's a sinister cost to trading places, and others hunting the dreamworm who would kill to get their hands on it . . .
Across a thousand possible lives, from Portland to Haiti, from Argentina to the alligator-infested riverways of North Carolina, Bridge takes listeners on a highly original thrill ride, pushing the boundaries of what we know about mothers and daughters, hunters and seekers, and who we each choose to be.
Beukes packs a lot of different types of story into this book, and expertly interweaves them. There's the obvious surface level plot journey of a grieving daughter hoping to be reunited with her mother — while also unpacking the trauma of their relationship. The obsession that Bridge's mother, Jo, had with the reality-hopping "dreamworm" was central to their estrangement; it's also the key that could bring them back together. But is the worm more toxic than that mother-daughter relationship, or was it the parasite that poisoned that relationship all along? It's a neat way to explore the connection between parents and their children, and what they take from one another. Cynical, sure, but poignant in its way as well.
As part of that mother-daughter story, you also get a mystery story, as Bridge and her friend Dom try to decipher Jo's journals and other belongings, uncovering more secrets and mysteries about Bridge's late mother. This is also how the story clever delivers the necessary exposition for how the dimension-hopping "dreamworm" works (another mystery that unravels like the, well, thread-like larvae of a parasitic worm). Without giving too much away: this is definitely the first time I've ever encountered transdimensional tapeworms in a story, and damn, I never knew what I was missing. What a fascinating, visceral, and utterly grotesque method of moving across the realities.
And of course, like any good alternate reality story, Bridge also uses the dimension-hopping to explore ideas about identity—in some ways that were both pedestrian, and surprisingly refreshing. The characters in the book aren't visiting big, bold alternate realities where (say) the Nazis won World War II, or any such dramatic turns from our own world. It's mostly subtle, butterfly-effect-like changes—which ultimately makes it a more personal, and powerful story. The "Prime" Bridge is a fairly average looking woman in her 20s who's feeling a little lost and listless; the other versions of herself that she discovers don't necessarily have their shit figured out any better, even though they might be mothers themselves, or hot YouTube influencers, or born-again Christians. Bridge's best friend, Dom, is non-binary, and has to grapple with versions of themself who use different pronouns. Another character, Cayden, is a mediocre musician who tries to steal song ideas from his alternate reality selves.
That's another way that Bridge stands out as a novel—Beukes doesn't shy away from acknowledging some of the more complex ethical elephants-in-the-room that accompany this sort of dimension-hopping adventure. Is it okay to steal intellectual property from an alternate version of yourself? Is it consensual to impersonate, or even become, an alternate reality version of yourself? And what if you pull that alternate reality of yourself into this reality—without their permission? Where is the line, and when do you finally cross it? Bridge takes some literal ideas about identity theft, and then extrapolates them into endlessly complicated ways. There are no clean or easy answers here—some readers may even wish that Beukes would spend more time exploring these ideas than she actually does—but it's a fascinating twist on a standard alternate-reality story, and one that I really enjoyed.
On top of all of this: Bridge is just a fantastic novel of suspense. It's thrilling, it's violent, it's heartfelt, it's globe trotting and diverse, and it's absolutely page turner. I haven't devoured a novel this deeply and quickly in quite some time, and I highly recommend it, even if you're not typically a fan of alternate reality stories.
Bridge: A Novel of Suspense [Lauren Beukes]