Lauren Beukes’ Bridge begins with Jo, a young mother on a desperate cross-country trip to acquire something she refers to as the “dreamworm.” When combined with other visual and auditory stimulation, the dreamworm allows a person to swap consciousnesses with another version of themselves from an alternate reality. A brilliant neuroscientist, Jo thinks she can use the dreamworm to find a way to defeat her cancer diagnosis. As a child, Jo’s daughter, Bridget aka “Bridge,” fully believed in her mother’s quest; as an adult, she understands it to have been a combination of her mother’s epilepsy, her cancer and the delusional imaginations of a desperate woman and her child.
In modern-day Portland, Oregon, Bridge is trying to organize her mother’s belongings after Jo’s death. While going through the house, Bridge finds the dreamworm and realizes her mom may have been telling the truth. Bridge quickly dives into the drugs-and-rock-and-roll version of astral projection her mom was studying, with her friend Dom along for the ride as an ever-faithful ally.
Bridge is a mystery and a family drama wrapped in the trappings of science fiction, with Beukes spending most of the book examining the difficult and complicated relationships between her characters. Beukes impressively paints each individual with a highly realistic level of detail and a clear-eyed perspective on their faults; there are no overblown types or caricatures to be found. The cast provides a full spectrum of human foibles, ranging from “Well, this character’s probably being the best friend they can reasonably be,” to “Wow, this character is somehow worse than a serial killer.”
Beukes drops clues about the dreamworm and the mysterious forces trying to claim it for their own throughout, and while readers will be able to piece some or all of these mysteries together, the twists are still surprising and the payoffs still satisfying. Searching for the answers will gnaw at the reader; it’s impossible to stop reading until they find out if their theories are right or wrong, even if that discovery comes at 2 a.m. and they will certainly regret it at work later that day. Ahem. Some readers may experience this, anyway.