Let me tell you about our brother.
The Fourth Dunbar boy named Clay.
Everything happened to him.
We were all of us changed through him.
Bridge of Clay explores the relationship between the Dunbar boys – Matthew (the narrator), Rory, Henry, Clayton and Thomas. Their mother is dead, and their father has fled. The boys are left to bring themselves up in a brawling household, but The Murderer arrives at their doorstep, disrupting their disorganised chaos.
Clay Dunbar – the quiet brother who smiled but never laughed – is the focus of Matthew’s narrative. The narrative is beautifully structured in fragmented segments that jump back and forth through time. The story is filled with repeated references and anecdotes that linger on the memory, calling into question whether it’s something that’s been forgotten or overlooked, or something not fully explained.
Questions are raised as to why Matthew Dunbar is narrating Clay’s story, and how it’s even possible for him to do so. A distance is maintained throughout, with the ever-present feeling that something is being withheld amidst the organised chaos of the chapters. Matthew attempting to fill the gaps with how he imagined Clay would have acted or felt only serves to highlight the love and distance between the brothers.
The structure and the teasing of anecdotes make it feel as though the reader is privy to the memories of the Dunbar family – jumbled and almost forgotten and almost too intense to be fully revealed.
There is a lyrical quality to the story, with small phrases and minimalist observations offering in-depth character insight, but also withholding just enough information to make it feel like the meaning is too important to be within immediate reach.
Bridge of Clay is not a quick read. The teasing of information and the slow pace before the segments feel like they’re starting to link up makes for a long read, but the payoff is beautiful, heartbreaking and soulful that lingers long after the final page.