The Other Side of the Bridge
© 2022 Timothy E. Paul
This is one of the stranger books I imagine I’ll read this year. Its title, setting, and opening disclaimer make the reader suspect that it’s a story set in 1965, perhaps viewing the political activism within the Selma from the perspective of someone who resisted it. Instead, it’s proves to be a quick story of two planned assassinations coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march, and neither of the then-visiting president Clinton. Instead, one intended assassination is of a black preacher who urges letting go of hate and embracing forgiveness; the other is from another black preacher, but a race-hustling demagogue. The action kicks off with the race-hustler, whom I’ll call RH, arranging to have two black men killed and left hanging from a tree in Old Cahawba, complete with a burning cross. The object is to stir up rage among the tourists swarming into town to listen to Clinton make mouth-sounds by faking a Klan hate crime. RH also wants to knock off the other fellow, Mr. Peace and Love, because RH is just an all-around baddie. RH is targeted himself by a dying and broken man named Tee who blames racial divison for the decline of Selma, and blames RH himself as a principle fomenter of said division. Ignoring the rather obvious fact that shooting RH will just make him a martyr, he aims to give RH the Kennedy treatment by using an abandoned building (the Teppers building)’s open windows. Tee will not win ‘most sympathetic protagonist of the year’, as his pain and inner conflict are released in verbal aggression against others. This being a novella, the story proceeds and wraps up very quickly, with little time for any rising drama or believable character development. There are plot twists, though. As as Selmian, I enjoyed the setting from someone who’s obviously familiar with the town, but found it a largely uninteresting read — save for the author’s claim that this was based on true events he was told about. Pardon my Old English, but like hell. Clinton visited for the 35th anniversary, not the 30th, and there was no violence associated with either one. The SS had Broad and Water Avenues completely locked down, to the degree that some people still complain about how difficult it was to live or work anywhere within eyeshot of the bridge that weekend. There just wasn’t enough story here, and what did happen wasn’t believable. I’m also unsure of the point: book’s description and blurbs make it sound like a story of racial healing through Christ, but that only appears at the very end where it’s more like a unexpected and not suitable garnish.
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