Harmon and Bodie Woodard, two brothers living in northern Vermont in the 1960’s, have been in competition all their lives, with the macho Harmon usually getting the upper hand over the sensitive Bodie. Harmon is the first to marry, the first to begin building a house, and--faced with the prospect of sudden domesticity--the first to recognize his patriotic duty to fight the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. He enlists in the army, leaving his draft-dodging brother behind to look after his wife and to finish the house.
The current hostility between Bodie and Harmon has more to do with Harmon’s wife Darlene than it does with the morality of the Vietnam War. One drunken night Bodie and Darlene climbed to the top of the Catamount Bridge together; the rumor around town is that they made love there, and that Darlene is pregnant with Bodie’s child. Although the rumor is false, neither Bodie nor Darlene denies it. They both enjoy having the domineering Harmon at a slight disadvantage.
The intense sibling rivalry Metz describes serves as an apt metaphor for the political differences that split the country during the late 1960’s. CATAMOUNT BRIDGE, however, is not simply another book about Vietnam, but instead is primarily a portrait of rural New England and the people who live there. At first glance it seems that life cannot have changed much since the first Woodards settled the valley in the eighteenth century, but Metz looks closer and notices subtle ways in which traditional habits of behavior have adapted to changing circumstances. He constantly opposes images of the old and the new: grandfathers talking to their livestock, grandchildren talking to their diesel-powered backhoes. An architect by profession, Metz has a real feeling for the New England landscape, as well as a profound understanding of the mystique of precision tools. He remarks of one of the book’s minor characters, “At Northfield Tool, he works with tolerances expressed in thousandths of inches. At home, he does his best to overlook less rigorous standards.”
CATAMOUNT BRIDGE is a well-written and thought-provoking novel that should appeal to the New Englander in everyone.