Winner of the 2015 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction

“In Bridge, Robert Thomas constructs, with urgency and crackling, unrelenting energy, a story told with the contradictory self-doubt and wild self-awareness of a bright, sardonic, and potentially self-destructive young woman. Even as we appreciate her tenuous existential dilemma, Alice’s vivid internal construction of an overwhelming worldview in short diaristic episodes seems, in its very creation, to keep her alive. Considering how easily readers might have felt claustrophobic within, or limited by Alice’s point of view—interior, unraveling—it is singularly impressive that Thomas manages—through the beauty of his prose, sophistication of his references, and propulsive energy of Alice’s mind—to connect the reader, and the narrator’s struggle, with the outside world. Although Alice’s beautiful and dangerous estrangement is entirely and selfishly her own, it becomes ours, and teaches us something larger and universal. This novel is an experiential wonder, giddy and joyful reading via the desperate empathy it both demands and models. The digressive, perfectly choreographed role of docent to everyday madness, as played by our heroine, is a brave pleasure in word and sentence, a totally pleasing combination of narrator and authorial, artistic self-control, and vividly evocative self-consciousness.”

— Judges’ Statement, by Cynthia Sweeney, Melanie Thorne, and Andrew Tonkovich

“Crisp, concise, emotionally explosive riffs, Thomas’s 56 brief, linked stories are linguistic tours de force that together form an unsettling character study. You’d pass her on the street and never notice Alice, who works in the word-processing department of a San Francisco law firm by day, and attends the opera, watches movies, or, home alone, listens to the voices in her head during off-hours. Alice leads her lonely life in what she calls the “Goldilocks Zone”: not too crazy, not too sane—a just-right (if tenuous) balance between calm and losing it. Alternately suicidal, murderous, funny, and vulnerable, Alice describes herself as an irrational prime number …. In a particularly virulent and memorable riff, she mocks the illusory link between cause and effect. Poet Thomas has a gift for using a minimum of words with maximum effect.”

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (8/18/14)

“A novel in stories that brings readers deep into the eccentric and neurotic mind of its protagonist. Alice—a lonely, at times suicidal woman—narrates the minutiae of her life with insight and wit. Thomas’ prose in these episodic vignettes is tight and vivid. In each two-to-three page installment, solipsistic Alice is given black humor and memorable one-liners. In “Capital Punishment,” she notes, “Sometimes suicide is nothing more than a way of saying ‘No, actually I was not being ironic. I meant it.’ ” To a reader looking for an action-packed plot, Alice’s digressions and the extreme interiority of the book might become exhausting. But there is a payoff; the stories function as building blocks that fit within an overarching narrative. They proceed chronologically as Alice’s depression intensifies and she struggles to find a way out from her abyss. With emotional resonance, an innovative structure and a unique narrator, Thomas crafts a book that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”

Kirkus Reviews (8/15/14)

“What happens in the story is minimal …. But how it happens — and how Alice describes it happening — is striking, unsettling and profound. An energetic, lyrical narration slowly reveals Alice’s precarious mental state. … In passages like these, the rushing thoughts, sense impressions, quirky language and crumbling boundaries all work to convey agonizing universal truths. And in this way, Alice reminds us of the truth about how hard it can be for anyone who’s really paying attention to survive in a world composed of such extremes of beauty and indifference.”

— Frances Lefkowitz, San Francisco Chronicle (12/10/14)

“Ever wonder what that quiet girl in the office is thinking? The serial monologues of Alice, self-described as an ‘irrational prime number,’ place us inside a wholly original, slightly suicidal, radically unconventional mind: precariously balanced, yet how far down she can see without falling. In this poet’s tour de force fiction, Thomas’ imaginative language created in me, to transplant his phrase, ‘what medical books accurately term prolonged dazzle.’”

— Eleanor Wilner, Ploughshares (Winter 2014-15)

“In densely figurative and psychologically precise language that reminds me of the novelist Nicholson Baker, Thomas manages the interstices of Alice’s thoughts and feelings as they pivot around the gun she buys and what she might do with it. … What Alice does with the gun as she struggles with her fear and desire for David, for her job and for her life, is heartbreaking and thrilling. And funny!”

— Mary-Sherman Willis, Poet Lore (Vol. 110, No. 1/2, 2015)

“Robert Thomas has done the nearly impossible in this age. He has written something entirely new, shockingly strange and strangely traditional. It is a gem of many facets, a collection of sharp glints and details that culminate in a shattering whole. There’s not a page here that is not worth rereading, in awe at the precision of the language, but it is a page-turning adventure-in-poems as well. Robert Thomas is a poet with a cosmic vision, who has managed to bring it to Earth in small domestic detail and psychological accuracy. In Bridge, we encounter the full power of poetry along with the full poetry of prose.”

— Laura Kasischke

Bridge is an utterly unique book and a tour de force. Thomas’s use of language reminds me most of Nabokov, the way he dances a sentence to its seeming end, only to twirl it just one more turn, revealing another hitherto hidden truth. But the glory of Bridge is not in language alone. The story is gripping, the psychology surprising and utterly right all at once. Not merely enjoyable, or absorbing, though both, Bridge is a revelation, as very few works of fiction are.”

— Robin Black

“Robert Thomas’s Bridge has the lucid spacious interiority and intensity of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, and a prose style hypnotic and brilliant enough to earn that comparison. As with Woolf, the rendering of sensibility and consciousness is the real tour de force here and Thomas’s combination of sheer lyricism and incisive edginess in each swift poetic chapter keeps the reader leaning forward to hear what our wounded, brazen narrator, Alice, is going to say next.

“The narrative of Bridge, and there is one, is not beside the point, but the real pleasure of the book is Alice, who knows more of human nature than is good for her, and tells all. This is literature of the first order. Thomas is a fearless writer with plentiful nerve and perfect pitch. Any lover of literature and student of human nature will find the journey of Bridge enthralling.”

— Tony Hoagland

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From Bridge:

Book cover photo by Sarah Jones, courtesy Maureen Paley, London.