Saturday, March 22, 2008
Bridge of Sighs
Bridge of Sighs: Richard Russo: There's something about a Richard Russo novel that bores me somewhere in the middle. This happened with Empire Falls and Straight Man. Maybe all of his books should be about a third shorter than they are. That said, Bridge of Sighs is a wonderfully sad tale ending in hope. It's the story of three characters whose families and lives intersect in the declining town of Thomaston, New York. Depicting economically depressed towns and their decline is something Russo is a master at; I was able to vividly see Thomaston's West End (where the people are poor), it's East End (filled with people who are mainly middle class) and the Borough (where the rich people live.) What I was not able to picture was The Hill, where Thomaston's black population lives, because Russo's characters don't go there. Bridge of Sighs centers around Lou C. Lynch, Sarah Berg, and Bobby Marconi. It's the decades long tale of their lives, told from the points of view of Lou and Bobby mostly. I was thrown by Sarah's sudden point of view in the novel because up until page 300 and something, the narrative switched between Lou and Bobby. Sarah was a character but she wasn't a voice, and the interjection of her point of view so late in the novel was jarring. I was also annoyed by Lou (nicknamed Lucy) and his unquestioning acceptance of his annoyingly optimistic father; he's so accepting that he doesn't like his own mother for questioning Big Lou's belief in the unfailing goodness of mankind. Lucy and his father are also extremely needy -- they need people and they cling to them. This is never more noticeable than in Lucy's friendship with Bobby -- they live near each other but rarely see each other because of Bobby's abusive father. When both families move, this is still true. When Bobby's family moves to the Borough, Lucy doesn't see Bobby again until high school, yet he clings to his friendship as if they saw each other every day. When Bobby flees Thomaston, Lou continues to write to him, always with a "Remember when . . ." in the letter -- something Bobby usually does not remember. Lucy clings not only to people and places but to the past as well; part of the underlying theme of this novel is Lucy's learning to let go of the past and appreciate the present. Despite being annoyed by some of the major characters and some false notes (Russo's depictions of African-Americans aren't very realistic), I loved Bridge of Sighs; it's my favorite Russo novel yet.