Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Serena helped me read this book, so I thought I'd include her picture. By consistently finding and sitting on my bookmark, she makes it harder for me to get up from wherever I'm reading.

My latest read is Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo. At first, this 528 page book, with its smaller-than-average type looked daunting, and it did take me a long time to finish. And now relating the experience is daunting, so I'll make some decisions, choose a path, and try not to regret it:

Bridge of Sighs is a slower-moving story than Russo's others, in part because this time, he has backed up with his camera and his memory, and gone for more of a group photo of the way things were in (fictional) Thomaston, New York. Once again, this is a story that takes place in a small town and centers on the struggling working class. However, unlike Empire Falls, which spent a lot of time in one diner and with one family, this story takes on three families, three childhoods, and the choices those three people make about how to spend the rest of their lives.

Most of the story is told by Lou C. Lynch, cruelly nicknamed "Lucy" as a child, a kind, sensitive soul who is almost pathologically afraid of change. Maybe more than "almost." The other two characters are Sarah Berg and Bobby Marconi. Long before we meet Sarah--from the first paragraph of the novel, actually--we know that Sarah will marry Lou, since he's the one who is always looking back in time and is now writing his memoir. Bobby Marconi was a high school friend, someone Lou always looked up to and admired. Both Bobby and Sarah will have terrible family issues that affect them deeply, emotionally, and each will make a different decision about how to recover and go on.

This novel explores the many different world views people can have, and whether or not anyone can truly change. Bobby and Lou are opposites in every way, and so their decisions are not at all as surprising or interesting as their family histories. Sarah is the one who had the hardest decisions to make, who had the most potential for regret. For her, Bobby will always represent the path not taken. Her choices are the ones readers will mull over.

There are many stories within this story, and many ideas to discuss. This time, Russo takes us back to the 1950s, and introduces a variety of interesting families, all with different challenges and parenting styles. Lou's parents seem to be an unlikely pair, but they prove to be stable anyway, despite their financial frustrations and different temperaments. They both obviously love their child. Sarah's parents are both too self-centered to be good parents, and have split, anyway. Bobby's father is abusive, and there are other situations, as well, that make Lou's life look very rosy, even though he's a poor kid putting in long hours at the family business.

This book does meander a bit. More than a bit. It meanders as much as the polluted river that snakes through Thomaston, but it is also fascinating and multifaceted. I've read over a bunch of reviews and see that some people think that the pace of Russo's latest novel is too slow, and also wonder why he included some of the characters and subplots, and my response is, he wanted to echo the pace of life back then in this little town, and also wanted to share a panoramic view of different lives for comparative purposes, because nothing is meaningful without that.

And, honestly, Richard Russo simply writes so well that he can take me anywhere. And that, folks, is my somewhat biased review. But then, aren't they all?


Ariel the Thief said...

Your review makes me interested, I don't know if this book is translated to Hungarian or not, though. I love meandering novels, and indeed every person carries a completely different world in their minds, even though we all look at the same things, we all see something different. You made me very interested, and brought another novel into my mind, Majgul Axelsson: Aprilhäxan (April Witches).

actonbell said...

April Witches? I'll have to look that one up...

TLP said...

Sounds interesting and I do like Russo. So, can I borrow it?

actonbell said...

Of course! And for the record, Mike does not agree that it meanders.