I don’t think anyone can reasonably argue that this is not an age of disconnection. More and more of our interpersonal communications take place electronically. Even our news sources are becoming increasingly specialized, one news source for Republicans and another for Democrats, with the result that we don’t really connect even when we need to. As in past eras, we can turn to art and literature to try to come to terms with our changes world and how a person might survive within it.
However, necessary though this view into modern disconnection is, there is a problem with exploring this in fiction. After all, the issue is disconnection. How can an author depicting disconnection do so in any meaningful way while still connecting the reader to the story? If the story fails to connect with readers, then readers will not be engaged and the story goes unread. We are talking about disconnect, after all. Last Call in the City of Bridges is definitely a book that has to come to terms with this particularly thorny issue.
Michael Bishop, the main character of Salvatore Pane’s Last Call in the City of Bridges, opens his story on what is a night of hope for him, election night 2004:
It was supposed to be the greatest night of our lives. By our, I mean my entire generation, all those unlucky souls raised on the 8-bit wastelands manufactured by Nintendo, all those boys and girls who watched the Berlin Wall crumble in kindergarten, the Twin Towers in high school. Overeducated, Twittering, viral…Election Night was supposed to be our moment, but not all of us were ready to believe.
Michael is in his mid-twenties on this night, generation Y. However, he runs into his ex-girlfriend Ivy. Quickly, the story dips into the past that leads up to this moment, a story of a time before hope was questioned for Michael, loss of that secure kind of state, and what the hell he can do after that.
In this past shortly before the election night present, Michael is not at a particularly good point. His closest friends desperately need help, but it is likely that Michael cannot save them. He falls in love with Ivy, but the situation is likely impossible. Michael himself needs saving, both from the past failures of his life and his failure to become what he wanted to be, but it is doubtful that Ivy or his closest friends can help him.
In short, Michael is disconnected. He is disconnected from actually living his life, as well as the people in it. After all, Michael seems to feel a desperate need to save and be saved. He needs recognition, achievement. However, he has a mind-numbing job, a history that haunts him, difficulty connecting to people, and may even be on the verge of losing those closest to him:
My hands were trembling. I hadn’t come to Brillobox with this confrontation in mind, but it all seemed connected in a way. How I had mocked Ivy’s faith. How I had stood by while Noah cheated on Sloan. How I’d become so absorbed in my own drama that I hadn’t even noticed Oz falling apart. How I had allowed Keith to die. They were all part of the same thing. Cowardice. Weakness. Inaction.
Michael desperately needs to do SOMETHING. He seems to feel that most of his generation needs to do something. But, maybe he doesn’t know what that something is. Maybe no one else does either.
Last Call in the City of Bridges packs in some real, vivid emotion. At least, it does for me. I think the key to a book with a setup like this is whether or not the reader connects with the character. I don’t necessarily mean whether or not the reader identifies with the character, just connection. If the reader doesn’t connect enough, these kind of problems could seem whiny, or melodramatic.
However, even for a story centering on a highly disconnected character, Pane connects me to Michael pretty strongly. I’m definitely not like Michael, but Pane got me inside Michael and I cared what was going on for him. For me, that’s what turns Michael’s emotion into my emotion. For me, that’s why I’m reading.
I did find it kind of interesting that I connected so well with the book given the major theme of the modern disconnect between people. Regardless, Last Call in the City of Bridges manages to connect. The book is emotional, intense without being forced, and graceful. I like what I’ve seen of Salvatore Pane and am eager to see more.
David S. Atkinson received his MFA from the University of Nebraska. His writing appears in Grey Sparrow Journal, Interrobang?! Magazine, Atticus Review, and others. His novel in short story form, Bones Buried in the Dirt will be published in March 2013 by River Otter Press. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.