In the tradition of sweeping historical fiction, author Mark Wilkerson tells the story of two brothers in love with the same girl whose lives diverge after chance puts them in the path of the deadly California flood in 1905 – the same flood that created the Salton Sea. Their saga spans nearly 30 decades: through World War I, the Great Depression, and ultimately to a dramatic confrontation set against the construction of Hoover Dam in 1934.
Wilkerson does some things right in his book. Most noteworthy is his obvious love of a good tale. Here, he has the makings of a terrific one. The book could have been fascinating as he takes readers on a twisting journey through real events, and he clearly has done his research. Also, the device of divergent brothers — one good, one bad — to further the story is stylistically compelling, as is the metaphor of untamed water to show the unbridgeable distance that keeps the brothers apart.
In the end, though, the book fails because of the writing. Some novels are doomed because authors let their beautiful prose get in the way of the story. Wilkerson has the opposite problem. It is hard to get to his great story because of a dearth of writing skills. His word choice is pedestrian, the dialogue is clichÃ©d, and punctuation and grammar are just plain sloppy. A good editor would have helped. A writing coach, who could have prodded him to dig a little deeper to expand his story, would have also been advantageous. At a slight 85 pages, neither the characters nor events are developed nearly enough.
That is a shame. With work, there might have been a short story or novella lurking within, but as a novel, Bridging the Chasm is ultimately unsatisfying.
Also available as an ebook.