The title of local author Lori Jakiela's latest memoir is a wryly veiled suicide reference, about a bridge people have leapt from. But honestly, things never get quite that bad in The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious (C&R Press). In this darkly comic, sort-of coming-of-age book, set when Jakiela is in her 30s, the memoirist is too busy jousting with her mother, her lovers, her friends and, mostly, herself, to contemplate ending it all.
Bridge to Take follows Jakiela's fine 2006 memoir, Miss New York Has Everything, about her days as a flight attendant. As Bridge begins, she's still technically in the trade, but has returned to her childhood home, in Trafford, to care for her widowed mother, who has breast cancer and heart ailments. Meanwhile, her mother — who's often manipulative, belittling and just plain mean — seemingly does her best to undermine what little self-esteem Jakiela has.
During the eventful couple of years that follow, Jakiela will also launch her teaching career, meet her future husband (the writer Dave Newman) and have her first kid. Along the way there are plenty of brightly sketched characters, from wacky South Side neighbors and various medical personnel to Jakiela's best friend, Gina, who's full of helpful suggestions like psychic readings and ear-candling.
Jakiela, who directs the writing program at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg and teaches at Chatham University, is a Hemingway disciple who gets maximum emotional charge out of short words, short sentences, short paragraphs, short scenes and short chapters. Here, in sequence, are three entire paragraphs from one scene, quoting her mother answering the phone: (1) "She said, ‘Lori?'" (2) "She said, ‘Is that you?'" (3) "She said, ‘Where are you?'"
Bridge's 280 pages are divided into 89 chapters; you could probably read them all in an afternoon.
Jakiela excels at framing random phrases to give them two meanings: one that's banal, and one that resonates emotionally. When her mother, teaching her to make bread dough, says, "You just know ... You can feel it," it becomes a metaphor for their often-unspoken love.
There's also her happy courtship with Newman; Newman reacting to news of Jakiela's pregnancy by vomiting; a Vegas wedding; and her mother assaulting the author in the author's postnatal hospital bed. Jakiela's gradual growth out of her sense of disconnection from her parents (she was adopted) and pretty much anyone else makes Bridge a span worth taking.