Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sighs Matters

Bridge of Sighs
by Richard Russo

Richard Russo is just an awesome writer. I have read most of his work and have loved all but one. His first novel, Mohawk, written in 1986, is ok but not up to the level of his others. Straight Man is a favorite - absolutely hilarious. Bridge of Sighs does not have the dead on humor of some of Russo's other books, but it is a beautiful story beautifully written. Like most of Russo's novels, this one is set in upstate New York and deals with the hopes, dreams, and struggles of working class people.

At the deeper level, Bridge of Sighs is about the difference between those who believe that all people are fundamentally good and those who believe that everyone (even people who seem good) is a scuzball in disguise. This difference in outlook has major impact on the rest of the choices we make in how we relate to people and how we live our lives. Two of the major male characters ("Big Lou" Lynch and his son, also named Lou) frustrate their wives because they are so kind hearted (and some would say simpleminded) that they get taken advantage of. They are also basically optimistic people, even when they are given very little reason to be.

There are so many other themes in play in this big fat story - racial tensions, father/son relationships, mother/daughter relationships, friendships between boys, adolescent angst, class warfare, academic freedom, domestic violence, frustrated aspirations, marital communication (do we always tell the "whole truth?") and artistic expression are just a few that come to mind. Each of these themes could be a whole post in itself - that is how packed and moving this novel is.

In spite of the numerous and heavy subject matters, the story does not drag. The larger themes are wrapped around daily domesticity and everyday life in a way that Russo makes look easy, but is impossible for most writers. The characters are so well depicted that they seem like real people and we hate to say good-bye to them when the book ends. One great strength of the book is its ending - Russo leaves us feeling that it is never to late for us to grow, that if we continue to stretch ourselves there will always be new things to discover, even in the mundane areas of life that we so often take for granted.

Bridge of Sighs is a book for anyone who has ever wondered about the road not traveled, wondered if we should have regrets about options that we rejected or choices that we avoided. Although not specifically about faith, Bridge of Sighs restores our faith in the truth that grace is present in all our circumstances. We need only look carefully to find it.

I hope many, many people will read Bridge of Sighs. It is a wonderful book that will leave the reader appreciating family, home, and the wisdom that we accumulate over time.

Reverent Reader


At 9/24/08, 10:03 AM , Anonymous Patrck said...

Great book...and as you note, it's very hard to "post" about it, because of the many things at play. i'd just add one more thread to yours...namely, russo's making the distinction, in the words of Big Lou, that it "don't cost you anything to be nice to people," whereas Tessa argues for the real costs of loving them. As the book makes clear, the costs are to both the loved and lover.

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