Richard Russo,
Bridge of Sighs
(Knopf, 2007)

Unlike today's James Pattersons and Danielle Steels, who can bust out multiple novels in a single year, Richard Russo is an author of patience, spending a number of years in crafting captivating and engrossing worlds for his readers to playfully dissect. And his projects aren't rainy-day reads, either. His most recent novel, Bridge of Sighs, weighs in at a hefty 640 pages. Obviously I wasn't able to complete it in a single sitting.

But that's exactly what I like about Russo. Instead of writing a story that strictly follows one character overcoming a single obstacle during the course of a couple days or weeks -- as less ambitious authors tend to write -- Russo's scope is way broader. He captures the lives of multiple characters over a period of many years, sometimes decades, as in the case of Bridge of Sighs.

Like in his previous effort, the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner Empire Falls, Bridge of Sighs is set in a small, fictional town that is quickly deteriorating. Instead of Empire Falls, Maine, we now find ourselves in Thomaston, located in upstate New York. Though told through multiple points of view (especially as the novel comes to a close), the book is mainly about Louis Charles "Lucy" Lynch, a man, now 60, who has spent his entire life in the small town without ever having stepped foot in any other place. He and his wife of 40 years, Sarah, plan to break this sorry track record with a trip to Italy. There, the couple will attempt to get reacquainted with Lucy's oldest friend, Bobby Marconi, an accomplished artist who escaped Thomaston so long ago, and without any intention of ever going back.

If anything, this is really a mere snippet of what Russo covers in his sprawling, aspiring story. A backbone, if you will. So much of the work, actually, is set in the past, detailing Lucy's youth in the poor side of town and palling around with Bobby, his only friend. Eventually, his father finds new work, so the Lynch family moves to a nicer section of Thomaston, complete with new surroundings, new experiences and new challenges. Coupled with Lucy's narrative are the life stories of Bobby and eventually Sarah, who both take over a chunk of Russo's spotlight as well.

A qualm I do have with Bridge of Sighs, however, is that reading it becomes a bit tiresome, specifically during the final 100 to 150 pages. There comes a point -- for me, around page 500 -- where as the reader you're just ready to reach Russo's conclusion. And I couldn't help but feel like the book dragged some in its latter end, no matter how much I was enjoying what I was reading (and had already read). I take it Russo was probably allotted extra liberty by his editors in crafting his new tale given his Pulitzer Prize win in 2002. Even so, I feel the story surely would have benefited if more tweaks had been made during the editing process.

This aside, Bridge of Sighs is wonderful fiction and a worthy follow-up to Empire Falls, my first Russo read. I'm now anxious to check out the author's earlier material.

review by
Eric Hughes

11 July 2009

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