Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs: Sighworthy (in a Good Way)

Bridge of SighsWell, I just finished reading Richard Russo‘s latest book, Bridge of Sighs (Knopf, 2007). What a satisfying read. It wasn’t a page-turner; I wasn’t left breathless at the end of a chapter. Instead, the book seems to ask you to let it unfold at a leisurely pace. And you honor that request, because after reading the first pages, you don’t want to rush it.

The book begins with a recitation of facts by one of the narrators of the book, Louis Charles (“Lucy”) Lynch:

Perhaps what’s most remarkable about my life is that I’ve lived all of it in the same small town in upstate New York, a thing unheard of in this day and age. My wife’s parents moved here when she was a little girl, so she has few memories before Thomaston, and her situation isn’t much different from my own. Some people, upon learning how we’ve lived our lives, are unable to conceal their chagrin on our behalf, that our lives should be so limited, as if experience so geographically circumscribed could be neither rich nor satisfying. When I assure them it has been both, their smiles suggest we’ve been blessed with self-deception by way of compensation for all we’ve missed.

In these beginning pages, perhaps the reader takes the role of “some people,” indulging the narrator’s belief and suspending our own disbelief that there is drama to be found in a life lived in one place. But as the pages unfold, we begin to see exactly that: that the deeper the roots go, the greater the shock to the system when change takes place. For me, it’s gratifying to see a writer succeed at chronicling the lives of ordinary people. I can’t help but wonder, however, as a frustrated wanna-be novelist myself of “ordinary people” fiction, that if this were anyone but Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo, or even if it were his first novel, if an agent would have rejected the novel as being too hard to market in today’s publishing climate. Probably not. The writing is too rich to ignore. But it serves my hypothesis that “quiet” books are just as important in today’s publishing climate as ever.

Definitely read this novel. But give yourself time, at least three weeks, to savor it. You’ll be glad you made the investment.

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