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The Bridge on Beer River
Terry Tierney
Tierney (Lucky Ride) creates an urgent, moving slice-of-life narrative of rebuilding a life in this collection of stories centering around Curt, an ex-Marine who struggles to find himself in 1980s small-town Binghamton. Each suite of stories has its own rising and falling action, but together they form a tapestry that expresses vivid yearning and desperation. Curt, who is as muscular as Tierney’s prose, is trying to get away from jobs like working a forklift at a dairy and into computer programming, while battling anger and drinking issues along with betrayals by friends and schemes by enemies. Despite his flaws and an intimidating bearing, Curt is decent and caring, striving to do the right thing, if he can.

Tierney digs deep into the psychology of the struggling small town Binghamton as it faces the decade’s economic downturn.It comes alive in dive bars like Mother's, Curt's main watering hole that's home to disabled veterans like Artie, a hard-drinking reporter in Carl, and the charismatic dreamer Debby, a waitress with whom Curt has a brief fling. Even rough and brutish adversaries like Mark (Debby's ex-boyfriend), scheming Anton, and sleazy Buford boast distinctive personalities and backstories. There aren't really heroes and villains; rather, these people mostly try their best but make frequent and sometimes hurtful mistakes. While his ex-girlfriend Chelsea wounds him deeply, Curt also cheats on his girlfriend Angie, one of the most affectingly drawn characters, a programmer known as "vampire" for her late hours and proto-goth style.

While there isn't one single overarching plot, Tierney composes a number of small character arcs that add up to something much larger. For Curt, this means a little absolution and the possibility of meaningful change, even if it means moving on to a different kind of life. It's what he avoids for most of the book, until he's finally ready. This feels satisfying and entirely earned. Readers who appreciate spare but impassioned prose will find themselves immersed.

Takeaway: Standout stories of a veteran struggling to find his place in 1980s Binghamton.

Comparable Titles: Phil Klay’s Redeployment, Odie Lindsey’s We Come to Our Senses.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-