Bridge and Tunnel Books first publication, “Two Sides, Three Rivers” is a ripe with Western Pennsylvania soul, but it might not be for everyone.
By: Neil Strebig
Sharon Dilworth’s latest work, “Two Sides, Three Rivers” is a cozy collection of good-natured storytelling with a spice of Yinz. It is the first book for Northside publisher, Bridge and Tunnel Books and it is a nice feather in the distinguished Dilworth’s cap. However, I couldn’t help but be drawn towards some of these tales with enthusiasm and put off by the lackluster stamp of others.
Dilworth’s range is certainly on display throughout. She doesn’t shy away from strange; with stories about a 21st-century private eye – a modern noir of sorts – to local legends about the witches of Lily Dale. It’s a charming literary compass. And whether it’s the seduction of noir or modish witchcraft, she still finds a way to embody elements of family at every turn. Pittsburgh is clearly the tide of the novel and kin is the undercurrent.
She blends the idea of home seemingly well with Pittsburgh with each story carrying significant emotional and creative weight behind it, albeit references to Giant Eagle and The Strip District can feel a bit forced at times. There’s no questioning the centralized theme of Western PA does its job providing a shelter for the readers, but does it connect with all of them? For Western PA locals, lifers and transplants these trinkets of Pittsburgh idiosyncrasies will certainly cause a smile. For the non-Pittsburgh reader, these elements may be lost in translation.
The strength, like any collection, lies in the variety it offers a reader. The weakness, of course, is that some will be hits and others whiffs of the pen, and Dilworth is not exempt from this.
Her voice can come off a bit too simple at times. In her “The City of Too Many,” her quick use of dialogue does a fine job of characterizing the vanilla nature of her main character Olga and the supporting cast but like her characters, the story falls flat. Instead of establishing a sense of urgency, the approach has sentences whizzing past like bullets rather than truly impacting the target. I felt aloof at times reading some of her passages, wishing there was more attention to sensory details and less towards rhythm. It was a foreign story with a foreign cast.
In her story “There is No Bob” which follows a broken family of five after the passing of their mother’s lover and roommate. The story manifests itself around the friction that a single-parent household has where each member is longing for attention, answers, and affirmation that it wasn’t their fault. It’s an emotional crux that carries the story and in the end, the twist is one that will transcend outside of the Greater Pittsburgh Area due to the peculiar definitions of love and family.
Her best has to be “Accordions of the Mon Valley” where Dilworth’s voice is pungent, distinct and dutiful. She wastes no time, ensuring each sentence, each slice of dialogue has a purpose. Unlike the other stories in this collection, Mon Valley is written with a creative nonfiction tone behind it. You feel as if Dilworth is in the room speaking to you about her first introduction to the Mon Valley, to rural Western PA, to the liberating insanity of youth and dream chasing. Mon Valley is grounded and her use of diction keeps the story anchored to your hands, the characters scream with conviction and one cannot help but be enamored by the end; it is a 10-page story with the depth of a hundred.
All in all, Dilworth does a solid job conveying her creative prowess throughout the book. Her ensemble of stories has a wide range of characters from the evangelical to the sinister. At its best “Two Sides, Three Rivers” is culturally convivial and remotely soporific at its worst. Yet, that’s the nature of a collection.
The true value in “Two Sides, Three Rivers” is the Pittsburgh hooks she jabs into each narrative. Even if a selection starts dry, feels forced or even flat she saves herself with a colorful connection to her adopted hometown. For the non-locals, this might have to stay on the shelves. For Yinzers and Pittsburgh lovers this fun fanfare of fiction will be a joy to read and share.
“Two Sides, Three Rivers” will be released next year, to pre-order a copy visit Bridge and Tunnel Books’ website.
Sharon Dilworth is the director of the creative writing program at Carnegie Mellon University and the author of seven books including “Year of the Gingko” and “The Way North.” View her full bio and her other published works here.
**Note review is courtesy of a manuscript from Bridge and Tunnel Books