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Books in Brief: This Bridge Will Not Be Gray by Dave Eggers

CHILDREN’s

This Bridge Will Not be Gray by Dave Eggers; art by Tucker Nichols; McSweeney’s Publishing, 104 pages $19.95.

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Egger’s lyrical prose and Nichols’ whimsical cut-paper illustrations tell the fascinating true story of how the Golden Gate Bridge came to be, and their glorious collaboration is an ode to creativity, a song in praise of inspiration over mediocrity. Leon Moisseiff, who had designed the Manhattan Bridge (“which is believed to be in or near New York City”) came up with what would be the longest, tallest suspension bridge in the world. Pedestrian walkways, lamps and art deco flourishes were suggested by architect Irving Morrow. Then began the debate over color. The steel was coated with anti-rust paint, “a certain reddish orange,” and as the bridge took shape, Morrow would champion it to stay that way as other colors were suggested. As only Eggers would write: “The Army wanted it to look like a candy cane [red and white] for the same reason the Navy wanted it to look like a tiger with jaundice [yellow and black] so that it would be easily seen by planes and ships.” And “gray was serious. Gray was safe.” But orange it would stay – the name is “International Orange” – and 10,000 gallons of paint a year keep it that way. Nichols’ illustrations are perfect. One intriguing illustration of the construction shows small black forms, a large orange square and a framework of girders. A page of tools includes a box with the legend “extra large nails.” (Eggers writes: “The workers used all kinds of tools in their work, and tried not to drop them into the ocean.”) San Francisco is described as a city of 49 hills, “a strange place” and Nichols offers a landscape of improbable humps in earthtones. The tops of the towers are 746 feet above the water level: “Sometimes the things humans make baffle even the humans who make them.” Eggers notes the Golden Gate is the best-known and best-loved bridge in the world “because it is bold and courageous and unusual and even strange.” The book jacket unfolds into a giant poster of the Golden Gate Bridge.

– Jean Westmoore

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THRILLER

The Dead Student by John Katzenbach; Grove/Atlantic, 432 pages, $26

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Sobriety can be a hard-won battle, victories coming one day at a time. And that war can be lost so quickly, as John Katzenbach deftly explores in his 14th thriller.

Miami Ph.D. student Timothy “Moth” Warner knows too well the battles with the bottle. He credits his psychiatrist Uncle Ed with helping him come to terms with his alcoholism and get help at AA meetings.

But Moth’s world changes on his 99th day of sobriety, when he finds his uncle’s body in the man’s Coral Gables, Fla., office. The police rule Ed’s death a suicide, and Moth crawls back into the bottle, even missing the funeral. When he sobers up, Moth refuses to believe the suicide verdict. Ed, who also was an alcoholic, stressed the joys of life and dealing with problems.

Moth finds several inconsistencies when he takes a closer look at Ed’s office and background. With the help of ex-girlfriend Andy Candy and doubting district attorney Susan Terry, Moth’s investigation leads him to an enigmatic killer who calls himself Student #5.

Former Miamian Katzenbach ratchets up his trademark intensity in “The Dead Student,” a breathless plot with plenty of twists that are grounded in reality. Although he now lives in Massachusetts, Katzenbach’s insider’s view of South Florida remains strong, beginning with his 1982 debut “In the Heat of the Summer.” “The Dead Student” smoothly moves from the neighborhoods of Miami-Dade County to Key West with a stop in Massachusetts.

Katzenbach also delivers a realistic view of sobriety and those in recovery. Moth’s AA meetings attract several professionals and Moth’s testimonials evolve into a discussion about his investigation.

A clever plot and well-sculpted characters elevate “The Dead Student.”

– Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel