It's not because I'm Nancy Rommelmann's friend that I cracked open, let alone now recommend, her book To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder. In these attention-fractured times, friendship alone does not ensure a #longread, particularly when the subject matter is as gruesome as a mom chucking her two tots into the Willamette River.
But I was a Rommelfan before a Rommelpal; it was only long-held trust in her journalism that led me into these uninviting waters. Boy, am I ever grateful.
To the Bridge is a 303-page crowbar into an open-and-shut case—the 2009 murder of four-year-old Eldon Smith and attempted murder of his seven-year-old sister Trinity by their mother, Amanda. Evil/crazy mom pleads guilty to unfathomably horrendous deed, what's left to discuss?
The reader stops asking such questions by about the second paragraph, through the allure of Rommelmann's deceptively simple storytelling. Soon, and somehow without obtrusion, the author swaps in a whole new set of queries. Did Amanda hear her daughter's cries in the river that night? How could her ex-husband Jason be so charming and note-perfect in public appearances yet such a grifting drug parasite in his day-to-day life? And who in God's name was that homeless-looking young father at the grotesque Fire Dept. christening of a rescue boat dubbed the Eldon Trinity?
To the Bridge is a story about all that, every act of reportorial brush-clearance adding new vistas of clarity and obfuscation. But—again, without explicitly telling you so—Rommelmann's investigation also manages to be both a tonic meditation on the limits of knowledge and a bracing defense of its pursuit.