There was a time when I watched The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson every weeknight. Ferguson was a clever, funny late night host who often had interesting guests with whom he had intelligent conversations. I hardly ever watch The Late Late Show anymore, though; I found that Ferguson’s show has become more about gross-out humor, too many inside jokes with a robot (yes, I generally find Geoff Peterson unfunny, deal with it), and interviewing starlets who have little to say that interests me, so I saw no point in continuing to watch.  The whole thing came to feel very lazy to me, though I still hope there will be a return to form for The Late Late Show.

 Ferguson’s novel, Between the Bridge and the River, reflects the same problems I’ve found watching his show. The novel follows the stories of two estranged friends in Scotland: George, a lawyer dying from cancer and contemplating suicide, and Fraser, a phony televangelist entangled in a sex scandal. It is also the story of orphaned brothers Leon and Saul Martini and their bizarre rise and fall in Hollywood. Their stories become intertwined through dreams, near-death experiences, and religious awakenings, both sincere and not. Beyond that, the plot is too detailed and messy to describe in depth here.

The novel is largely a satire of religion and show business, and as satire, it does work quite well. Ferguson is very good at humorously pointing out the hypocrisies and ugly aspects of both, without becoming so bitter that he cannot see anything good coming out of either one. His writing style is enjoyable enough that I would be interested in seeing him write another novel, even one with as chaotic a plot as this one.

Unfortunately, there are enough problems with Between the Bridge and the River that I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly, at least not to everybody. There are a few too many characters in the novel, and it was sometimes hard to keep track of all of them, especially if certain ones weren’t mentioned for a while. This is also a very, shall I say, R-rated read, and while often it was dirty in a clever, funny sort of way, just as often it was just plain gross. There were a few too many times when I was cringing at the “dirty” moments rather than laughing at them, which was very disappointing. I am hardly what most people would consider a prude, but as I read certain details of some of the characters’ behavior, particularly Saul Martini, I frequently found myself saying, “Was that really necessary to include?”

While I enjoyed many aspects of Between the Bridge and the River, I was rather relieved to be finished with it, which is never a good sign with any book. Funny as it often is, it is also too overloaded with plots, characters, and grotesque images I could have lived without ever having placed in my mind. This is very obviously a first novel, and I’d hope to see some of these problems gone if Ferguson ever wrote more fiction.

If you are eager to read something by Ferguson, I would more enthusiastically recommend his other book, American on Purpose. Written a few years after Between the Bridge and the River, this is Ferguson’s memoir of his life from childhood in Scotland through an adulthood of drug addiction and checkered success, culminating in success on CBS and becoming an American citizen. It is really a remarkable life story told in a sophisticated but still fun and conversational style. While Between the Bridge and the River reminded me of why I don’t watch The Late Late Show much anymore, recalling American on Purpose gives me hope that someday I will be back to watching it every night.

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