‘Bridge Retakes’ by Angela Lopes

Book Reviews

Reviewed by Domenica Martinello

Whether we abide by or eschew them, categories matter. They can be limiting or limitless, depending on your perspective. Throughout the reading of Angela Lopes’ brief debut Bridge Retakes, I questioned the unequivocal categorization of this book as a novel. To be clear, I take a deep pleasure in weird writing, textual experiments, and genre blurring in all its forms. I also respect a writer’s agency in framing her own work. Decisive categorization can be an artful, crafty foil to our inherited expectations of form and narrative (Lydia Davis comes to mind), while also putting certain works in conversation with each other. In other words, I don’t think I’m precious about genre, but I’m not dismissive of it, either.

And so I begin here, thinking through Lopes’ decision to declare Bridge Retakes “a novel,” the designation being at the very heart of the book’s cover page. I want to appraise the book on its own terms, and yet its intentions are lost on me. It takes effort to shake the frustrating desire to reframe the book in my mind as—what? A play with a chorus and two actors delivering monologues? A novel of prose poetry, the way Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is often categorized? Bridge Retakes’ many instances of intense, lyrical language does call to mind Smart—yet the unconventional narrative structure paired with a gesture toward a conventional linear plot with Big Themes (money, class, and gender, according to the synopsis) feels unresolved or thinly explored. And to add to the melee, what does it mean that this novel calls itself a “millennial tale”?

There’s not much durational room for these questions to unfold during the reading experience. As physically slight as the book may be, I still felt somewhat surprised by its brevity. The novel is a mere 120 pages long, and many of those pages are left intentionally blank or contain a single sentence section break. In a review of another recently published BookThug title, Devon Code’s Involuntary Bliss, André Forget comments that the novel’s “expansiveness is gestured toward rather than realized.” Forget gets even punchier: “It is true that sometimes less is more, but sometimes less is also just less.” This is a statement that resonated strongly for me while reading Bridge Retakes. When is less just less?

Bridge Retakes is a love story. Phila and Zé first meet on an online dating site, a detail that I suspect was seized upon for “millennial tale” marketing purposes. Canadian-born Phila still lives with her parents in Winnipeg and divides her time between working three jobs and travelling to São Paulo to help her cousin run a beauty salon. Bahian-born Zé still lives with his parents and siblings (one of which also owns a beauty salon) in São Paulo and has never left Brazil.

The two meet and instantly fall into a love affair so intense Zé asks Phila to marry him after their first encounter. Phila then repeatedly reflects on her yearning for Zé to “impregnate” her, as we’re told the “very basic desire to procreate together” occurs to both lovers simultaneous upon their first coupling. In fact, this “subconscious decision [to procreate] is what keeps them going,” though the odds are stacked against their long-distance love. For cultural reasons that do in fact intersect with (but do not necessarily expand on) the aforementioned themes of money, class, and gender, Phila and Zé cannot settle on a situation that will put them in the same place for more than a few months at a time. Zé will never leave his mother by moving to Canada and he needs Phila to “enter on [his] terms” if she comes to Brazil. He ignores Phila’s texts and phone calls for a month and then creates several fake Plenty of Fish profiles to test her loyalty—truly awful. But there’s still that primal baby-drive to consider. So they persist.

Most of these plot details are conveyed economically in several straightforward asides that break up Phila and Zé’s interior monologues. These moments of omniscient narration, short as they may be, are the most fully realized in the book. They are rife with plainspoken, poetic insight: “Nothing ever gets created without risk. Precisely because Zé and Phila didn’t know and still don’t know what is being created, it is creative,” later sobered by the question: “Who can enter into a relationship of love that they don’t get to attend?”

By contrast, Phila and Zé’s own sections are hit-or-miss. There are moments of beauty, like Phila ruminating that “our families meeting in our bodies makes me love every-man-I-love’s mother,” an incredibly tender thought I can’t shake. Yet the shifts in register are sometimes awkward. Vernacular moments, like when Zé (performing a version of caricatured masculinity) thinks: “I gotta get you to depend on me for money,” are followed by overly stiff statements like “it is hard to transmit my intense feeling for you through these technological devices.” Conversational trains-of-thought are suddenly punctured by moments of heightened poeticism: “Scathing saccharine streets extend wanting another language to grow up in, all senses reconvened with ethics.” Okay. The high/low language seems inconsistent, yet it’s a uniformly present in both Phila and Zé interior monologue sections—rendering their voices an interchangeable patchwork.

Given the nature of these monologues, it seems odd to me that each section is dated and moves forward linearly: “Phila, March and April 2015, São Paulo,” for example. I’m interested in locating Phila and Zé within a geographically specific point in time, but Bridge Retakes seems to rely on shorthand to maintain brevity and intensity. Personally, I would much rather a novel (especially one that presumes to unfold within some adherence to a linear plot) that locates identities within their many intersections by doing the work of fleshing out a world around them.

Maybe the rigidity of my expectations should be suppler when it comes to genre. Even so, I can’t shake the feeling that Bridge Retakes is less than what it surely has the potential to be.

BookThug | 120 pages | $18.00 | paper | ISBN #978-1771663021


  1. Catarina
    Posted July 22, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Contrary to the review, I think Bridge Retakes is a warrior of love read .
    It’s the sentences that matter , think Gail Scott.
    “Each quote is a dance floor.” As Lopes says!
    Many of the ackward vernacular disjunctive moments are necessary to show geographically where they are, and mentally where there are.
    One day alone in São Paulo will give you all the differences colliding into one another . It’s no wonder why Lopes did this.

    Juliana Spahr states in her praise for the book that it’s Phila + Ze that equals the book, the plot.
    Each character has many identities , it’s in the language .

    There are numerous experimental novels that come to mind, luckily the prairies now has one !!!
    It is a novel as short as it maybe, it’s intense as it was born to be.

  2. Catarina
    Posted July 22, 2017 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I think Bridge Retakes is a warrior lover read.
    It’s the sentences that matter, just think Gail Scott. Sound is important in this “novel.” Lopes says “each quote is a dance floor .”
    São Paulo is crazy , thus the disjunction at times in different vernaculars . Culturally Winnipeg and São Paulo differ drastically , thus the different languages, as ackward as they could be for more conventional readers .

    Since this is BookThug ‘s “Départment of Narrative Studies”
    I would say Bridge Retakes can keep all the space
    (Or as little as it will) to declare itself a novel .
    Many shorter experimental novels come to mind!!

    This is Lopes’ debut novel, and what an intense awakening for prairie literature to be blessed to have .

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Domenica Martinello

Domenica Martinello is a writer from Montréal, Québec, and is the author of the chapbook Interzones (words(on)pages, 2015). Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in PRISM, CV2, The Puritan, Matrix, Lemon Hound, and elsewhere. She is currently pursuing an MFA in poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.