on 24 February 2008
I never doubted when I started reading that this was a good book. It had all the necessary ingredients; good writing , engaging story full of likeable characters, interesting insights into their psychological make up, enough pages to be sure that we would really know the characters by the time we left them...And yet, at times, reading it would gently send me to sleep! However once I reached the middle I stopped feeling sleepy and finished it in two days. On the whole it is a book I would not hesitate to recommend. It will not be the best book you have ever read but it will give you a non-negligible amount of pleasure, and you will spend a good many hours with characters who ring true and whose foibles are all so human, easily recognisable in many of us but made more interesting by their transposition into good quality fiction.
Richard Russo is one of a half-dozen authors whose books I buy sight unseen. I have laughed and cried reading his novels, especially my favorite, Nobody's Fool, but also the chilling Empire Falls and the burlesque Straight Man.
So I was delighted to get yet another novel from an author who doesn't write as much as I'd like, and it's a big meaty one. As one of the other reviewers pointed out, you want your favorite authors' books to be like his or her other books, but you want them to be different. And Bridge of Sighs is about as different as possible from Russo's other books, yet at the same time his depth of character, humanism and touching details are ever-present.
The story tells the tale of Lou C. Lynch (nicknamed Lucy), and his relationship with his family, his only friend, and eventually his girlfriend who will later become his wife. It's vintage Russo in his characterization and portrayal of small-town America, a tiny slice of life of a small town in upstate New York. This is what's called a "character-driven novel", where the plot itself is dependent on the characters and their actions, and that explains why some reviewers found the book "slow" or "wordy". Russo weaves a tapestry of the events in his characters' lives, their feelings, and their thoughts.
I won't deny that I was a bit thrown by this book after a while. But I trusted Russo to bring this story to a moving conclusion, and had tears in my eyes during the final chapter. If you don't have patience to read a true stylist and, in my opinion, on of America's finest character authors, you'd best avoid this book. But if you are willing to give yourself up to Russo's world for more than 500 pages, you'll be much the richer. As always, Russo gives a great story, with moving, real people in events that you can imagine occurring to you. A great read indeed.
on 19 October 2012
Ask what "Bridge of Sighs" is about and you're confronted with a myriad of potential answers. It's about life in a small town you say, or perhaps the pursuit of the American dream. Maybe it's really about realism versus idealism, or family dynamics, or the class, racial and economic division within a community. Truth be told it's about all of these, but ultimately it's a story of despair and unresolved emotional attachments.
Richard Russo has liberally peppered his narrative with fascinating characters, and taken a perceptive look at the anxieties, doubts and situations experienced in youth that are the stone from which the identity of each character is carved. We have our protagonist Lou (Lucy) Lynch filled with naïve idealism and ever present optimism, a trait that he inherited from his father. Tessa, his mother, is the unfaltering realist with a pragmatic approach to living life. Tommy Marconi (Noonan) - is a man Lucy considers to be his friend.....a man who uses his artistic talent as an outlet for his rage and for who control is a requisite for living.
Other characters, wives, lovers, parents, sons, and friends are intricately woven through this multi-faceted story creating depth and adding dimension to a tale that, like Russo's Empire Falls, can barely be contained between the covers of this novel.
Bridge of Sighs makes one unmistakable point----- we are all an amalgamation of the parental input, life experiences and insights that have brought us to a metaphorical bridge. We can choose to cross the proffered bridge or fall into the chasm of memories (some of which may be clouded by time and age).
on 25 June 2009
I have read all of Richard Russo's books after being passed 'Empire Falls' by my dad, and then being a Russo fan from that point on. I must confess I that I did buy this book hoping that it would be as laugh out loud funny as I found 'Empire Falls' and 'The Straight Man' (my favourite of all his novels).
Although the humour was more in the study of the 'human condition' as I think one of the other reviewers refers to it, the book was no less enjoyable for it. For a book of this length to be such an easy read, and for the characters to stay with you once you have closed the cover is a mark of its merits I think.
I read this book on holiday and so finished it in 2 days, but even when I had moved on to my next holiday read I still found myself wondering what the characters in 'Bridge of Sighs' were doing. I love the way Russo paints America and would recommend this particular book to anyone who enjoys the type of book which immerses you in someone else's life, and which lets you have a little bit of escapism.
Richard Russo's 2007 novel Bridge Of Sighs is an epic tale of the interwoven lives of three families (the Steins, the Bergers and the Marconis) growing up in upstate New York in the town of Thomaston. But whilst Russo has, somewhat unusually for him, drawn his novel on a grand scale, taking in a timeframe of around fifty years and including a wide cast of characters, Bridge Of Sighs continues to demonstrate Russo's brilliant powers of compelling and insightful characterisation, an ability in which he is, for me, unsurpassed among current novelists.
In Bridge Of Sighs, Russo skilfully intercuts the childhood lives of main protagonists Lou C. ('Lucy') Lynch and Bobby Marconi, whose families are of Irish and Italian descent respectively, with their more distant and fractured relationships 50 years on. Russo's storytelling, particularly in these childhood sections is full of exquisite prose and poignant and tragic tales, and ranks with some of the finest writing in I've read in this field - for example, the likes of Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird and, more recently Donna Tartt's My Little Friend.
Russo creates his fictional world in such a loving and detailed manner that as readers we come to identify with his main characters and feel empathy for them, whether they be slow-witted, cynical, self-deludingly optimistic, arrogant, bullying or vulnerable. As with his other works, Russo's novel is set in the modern, real world, but is marked with very few external historic events, thereby giving it a timeless quality. However, that is not to say that Russo does not address real (and current) social issues. In Bridge Of Sighs, he variously addresses bullying (both in childhood and marital settings), racism, family loss (death and illness), social class divisions and corporate/environmental exploitation - and each in his own unique, and subtle, way.
Another must read novel from this master of the form.
Unless you are fascinated by small town life in upstate New York, this is a book whose pace is likely to feel - at times - rather slow. But gradually a picture emerges that is worth waiting for. The backdrop of the book is the American Dream from which the town awakes to find itself polluted and sick. It is a world where kindness and optimism about human nature vie with experiences of prejudice and cruelty, where choices are limited and their implications lasting, where relationships developed in childhood make well-neigh inescapable patterns in adulthood - and over generations. In his exploration of the microcosm of life in Thomaston, Russo sets optimism about human nature against cynicism, vice against virtue, inertia against creativity.
All that said, eventually, and against all the odds, we recognise this book as a long slow love letter to humanity. It's worth the wait. Give it a try - a long slow try...
on 13 June 2012
Amongst all the claimants to the title of The Great American novel this one effortlessly, if lengthily, covers all of the American, and human condition. The action is mostly set in a small town in New York state, where lives are lived out, through many generations, largely seen from the fussy and over-emotional perspective of a man looking back on his life spent, mostly, in his parents' general store. His friends and enemies and family come and go and change and stagnate and, in one case, leave to find their fortune as an artist in Venice. Class and race are dealt with, and how our parents and our attitudes towards them shape us. Also how art helps us deal with life and the power of belief (in all sorts of things) in the face of inconvenient contradiction. A truly moving and mind-stirring read.
Why Richard Russo isn't better known is beyond me - his books have been uniformly superb right from the start, and "Bridge of Sighs" is no exception. Once again he has produced a story packed with detail about life in small-town America (a run-down tannery town in this case), populated with characters you can't help but grow to love, and every sentence is just so clear and beautifully written.
Some critics have commented that "Bridge of Sighs" is overlong, and to be honest it probably is a tad bloated, but even having said that it is still a fantastic read. As with all of his novels I reached the end and found that I actually missed the characters a little, and that is the mark of a first-rate writer.
Is it as good as his masterwork, "Empire Falls"? Probably not, but it is certainly chasing its coat tails for me, closely followed by "The Risk Pool". I really can't wait to read this novel again. Highly, highly recommended.
on 13 December 2007
Never heard of him or the book. I was sent it to review on the Simon Mayo book program and was blown away. If you like John Irving or Robertson Davies then you will love it. Once you start to read this you are in another world that doesn't loosen its grip until the final page. Totally engrossing, beautifully written and full of insights and musings on the human condition that will leave you pondering and marvelling for a long time. Fully recommended. Now where is that list of his other books.......................
on 8 November 2009
Bridge of Sighs sucks you in to a world where small things happen and ordinary people become as real as the ones you live with. It explores the failings of friendship and love, the unfairness of everyday society and the quiet, forgotten hopes and dreams of years gone by that haunt us all in some shape or form. Russo is an artist with words, he depicts the scenes he sets with the utmost attention to detail and holds the lives of his characters up for judgement knowing that their strengths and weaknesses are in us all. He puts marriage under the looking glass and you witness the soldiering on that goes on in every long-term pairing and recognise the importance of that on many levels. I sighed deeply when I turned the last page because I wanted it to carry on. If you like to inhabit the book you read, this is the book for you.