A review of String Bridge by Jessica Bell

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

String Bridge
by Jessica Bell
Lucky Press LLC
ISBN: 978-0-9846317-4-2, softcover, November 2011

Melody is at a crossroads. She’s given up her music career for the corporate world of course writing, and motherhood, and her increasingly overbearing Greek husband is trying to keep her in the kitchen and away from both music and management. As Melody inches closer to reinvigorating her stalled dreams and pump up her life, she finds that the obsticles that begin appearing are far more significant and overarching than she could ever imagine. Poet and musician Jessica Bell’s debut novel String Bridge is a rich exploration of desire, guilt, and the difficult balancing act of the modern woman. The writing is lyrical throughout, seamlessly integrating setting, character and plot in a musical structure that allows the reader to identify with Melody’s growing insecurity as her world begins to unravel:

I close my eyes for a moment, facing the window, pretending to look out at the overcast sky–at the clouds that make liing in a high-rise building seem like living low in a valley, in the mountains, in the mist, in a place where self-doubt and fear have been erased from the dictionary, and self-belief and hope are not onlyf eelings, but material objects that you can hold in your hands and confidently say you possess.

While the plot centres on Melody’s own growth in this character driven novel, Alex, her husband, and Tessa, her daughter also develop and grow, literally in Tessa’s case. The plot twists are unexpected and at times quite wrenching, as Melody finds that her beliefs, perceptions and desires distort, change and are pulled in different directions. Behind the character development, the Greek setting becomes a rich backdrop that enriches the book, showcasing the beauty of landscape seen through a visitor’s eyes:

At dawn, especially, it was a Neverland of lush luminescent green mountain, deep purple sea, sherbet orange sky and sharp-toothed cliffs so high you could literally walk on clouds

Throughout the book the writing is poetic and fine, with original metaphors working the imagery thorugh. Air is so crisp you can “snap it like celery”, lips part like “velcro”, and the piano shines like a “freshly glazed tart”. Above all, this is a novel about music. Music drives the plot as Melody’s desire for music becomes the motivating catalyst for change in her life. Her guitar and voice underpin the narrative in all sorts of ways, from the songs that open each chapter, to the lullabyes Melody sings for her daughter to the musical career she attempts to resurrect. Then there is the music of others — the pop and rock bands that Alex promotes and those stars like Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell, whose music is the inspiration for Melody. Patti makes her own cameo in the book, and Joni’s “Blue” is referred to a number of times in the book.

Jessica Bell’s String Bridge is a powerful debut from a promising writer, full of music, metaphor, and just a hint of magic.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse , She Wore Emerald Then , ,Imagining the Future, and Deeper Into the Pond.