Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Across the Bridge” looks back on the events that lead to Sylvie’s marriage. The story is constructed out of her memories, which are surprisingly uncolored by emotion, given the circumstances of her engagement. Sylvie describes what she has thought and done, but her feelings are expressed only in the actions that they motivate. For example, when she is berated by her mother for Bernard’s nonexistent proposal, Sylvie remembers that “I put my napkin over my face and began to bawl”; her strong underlying emotions are not otherwise described. The absence of feelings accentuates Sylvie’s passivity as a young woman. This passivity makes her not entirely sympathetic as a character; the reader waits for her to take charge, to do something. Ultimately, however, dissatisfaction with Sylvie’s inaction distances her from the reader. Such distance is a primary characteristic of Mavis Gallant’s fiction, and has been both praised and condemned by critics.

In addition, the veracity of Sylvie’s story is suspect because it is reconstructed out of memory. Sylvie tries to assemble a smooth coherent story from her past, and some memories trouble her because she does not know either where to place them or if they are entirely true. She hints that she has pared away the memories that do not connect well with others. Truth in a person’s life is not always neat and well contained, however, so Sylvie’s story will necessarily be false in places. The...

(The entire section is 501 words.)