In most road-trip novels, characters walk or drive or sail as they look for answers to sometimes unanswerable questions.
We continue our Summer Fiction Series with a new road trip story: Aaron Thier’s “The World is a Narrow Bridge.”
The story revolves around a 20-something couple who are constantly talking about whether they should have a baby. To complicate matters, God has decided to make an appearance on Earth, and taps Eva to basically advertise his existence.
Aaron Thier: They don't know what they want to do with their lives. Eva is a poet. Murphy doesn't have any professional ambitions at all. And the book opens with them sort of in this state of wondering.
They're sitting in a traffic jam in Miami. Eva has just had a dream in which she believes she's seen the Old Testament God, and she believes she sees him again in traffic in Miami, and they decide.
Eva thinks, "We might as well run away from God if we have to, because it seems sensible," and so they just drive over the median, and drive away out into America. But of course, they're pursued across America by the Old Testament God.
Jill Kaufman, NEPR: Let me ask you about the title of this book, "The World is a Narrow Bridge." Eva and Murphy learn about this phrase from Satan, who's had bad PR in his life. This fallen angel, in fact, is compassionate and helpful. He's warm. It's a great character. He says to them, here's this phrase, if you ever become frightened, I want to teach you this incantation. So if you'd read from that.
"I'll teach you a trick," he says. "I'll teach you an incantation that will protect against despair. If things are dark and I'm not around to help, you can repeat it a few times and it'll help. I assume you speak Hebrew?" Avery shakes her head. "You don't speak Hebrew."
He seems incredulous. "Are you sure?" "Sorry." "No need to apologize. Let's see, the translation would go something like this. The world is a narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to be afraid."
Murphy and Eva repeat this very slowly. Eva says, "That's lovely." Satan nods. "Just repeat it to yourself when things are bad. You could try different translations, too. Do not make yourself afraid. The whole world is a narrow bridge. It would really be better if you knew Hebrew."
Before he goes, he tells them that they can reach him any time by picking up a pay phone. Then he bows deeply. He's singing "Angel of the Morning" as he passes through the revolving doors.
So Murphy's told about this idea by a woman who appears to be itinerant homeless, brilliant. And she starts to talk about this notion that when those seas rise, and the shores disappear, the last piece of land left will be trash mountain for sale to somebody.
When my wife and I were in graduate school in north Florida, we were spending a lot of time in Miami, and we would drive down 95. And Florida is very, very flat, oppressively flat, in a way, except that occasionally, you see what look like mountains or hills, and they're capped landfills.
The highest point of Miami is something like 20 or 22 feet. But most of most of southern Florida is like six feet, or lower. And it really wouldn't take that much ice melting to just drown the whole thing. What you're left with are these landfill islands.
I suppose the metaphor is obvious, and sort of painful to think about, but it's also true that that is going to be what's there, kind of an archipelago of landfills.
I don't want to leave people with the idea that this is a book about God or religion. It's about people who happen to bump into a guy who says he's God.
I suppose I was hoping to get across a message of hope. Not unrealistic hope -- not sort of Pollyanna, everything's going to be fine, more a sense of: there are things that are eternal and valuable -- love and art, and smaller things than that, right? Like, just a nice day. Some nice food, things like that, which they're constantly enjoying. They're appreciating a sunset or something, against the backdrop of this kind of calamitous story.
Beyond that, it's about the complexity of human experience -- that no matter how much you learn, you're not going to get at that the deep truth, because you're sort of part of it. You're in it.
But there's this astounding richness of experience that if you don't get all twisted up, if you don't get too attached to the idea that you have the answer, or everything's going to be fine once you achieve this goal, or that goal, then you have a chance, at least, of living modestly satisfying life.
Catch up with all of NEPR's Summer Fiction Series.