Bridge of Sighs

by Richard Russo

Hardcover, 2007

Call number




Alfred A. Knopf (2007), Edition: 1st, 528 pages


Six years after the bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls, Richard Russo returns with a novel that expands even further his widely heralded achievement. Louis Charles ("Lucy") Lynch has spent all his sixty years in upstate Thomaston, New York, married to the same woman, Sarah, for forty of them, their son now a grown man. Like his late, beloved father, Lucy is an optimist, though he's had plenty of reasons not to be -- chief among them his mother, still indomitably alive. Yet it was her shrewdness, combined with that Lynch optimism, that had propelled them years ago to the right side of the tracks and created an "empire" of convenience stores about to be passed on to the next generation. Lucy and Sarah are also preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy, where his oldest friend, a renowned painter, has exiled himself far from anything they'd known in childhood. In fact, the exact nature of their friendship is one of the many mysteries Lucy hopes to untangle in the "history" he's writing of his hometown and family. And with his story interspersed with that of Noonan, the native son who'd fled so long ago, the destinies building up around both of them (and Sarah, too) are relentless, constantly surprising, and utterly revealing. BRIDGE OF SIGHS is classic Russo, coursing with small-town rhythms and the claims of family, yet it is brilliantly enlarged by an expatriate whose motivations and experiences -- often contrary, sometimes not -- prove every bit as mesmerizing as they resonate through these richly different lives. Here is a town, as well as a world, defined by magnificent and nearly devastating contradictions.… (more)

Media reviews

Russo schrijft bij vlagen virtuoos, over de veranderingen in het stadje vooral wanneer de belangrijkste industrie, een vervuilende looierij, failliet is en de werkloosheid toeslaat. Over de raciale verhoudingen binnen het stadje. Over de dreiging die binnen en buiten het gezin Marconi van de vader
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uitgaat, met wie zoon Bobby een essentieel conflict uitvecht. Het leest prettig, maar beklijft te weinig om een hoogtepunt te worden in Russo’s oeuvre.
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1 more
As a study of small-town life and the endless chain of relationships that lies at its core, this is beautifully done. (...) As a novel of late-20th-century America it achieves its effects through a deliberate obliquity. This is particularly evident in its treatment of race. (...) Not everything in
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the novel wholly convinces. The Venetian scenes, taking in modern-era Bobby's erratic love-life and his relationship with art-dealing Hugh, are too sporadic to engage, to the point where the reader wonders whether Russo has begun to lose interest in him. Bridge of Sighs is full of these moments of half-occluded revelation, understanding that is compromised by lack of information, nervy compromises between the lives its characters want and the things they finally obtain. If modern American life and the fiction that rises from it are really only a series of balancing acts, then Richard Russo is one of the most accomplished tightrope-walkers on the block.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member samfsmith
Another exceptional book by Richard Russo, and another insightful look at small town America.

Also interesting from a craft standpoint. It’s the story of a trio of friends - two boys and a girl. Their interaction comes to a climax in their senior year of High School, but the novel begins when they
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are 60. The portion of the story that occurs when they are 60 serves as a narrative wrapper around the rest of the story, which follows the two boys from childhood through High School, and the girl from about age thirteen on.

The parents play an important part as well, and the behavior of the children is foreshadowed by that of their parents. The 60 year old characters again have their behavior echoed by their own children.

Third person is used for all the characters except one. that one is used as the central character of the book, and his story is told in first person. He is also a slightly unreliable narrator, in that a lot of the story that he relates is contradicted by other characters. This adds an extra dimension to the storytelling.

There are plenty of echos in the novel, from the bridges that are in the title to the repeated character traits of the parents and children. Richard Russo’s insight into human character is what makes the novel an outstanding read.
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LibraryThing member heathernkemp
Rating: A

I loved this book. Let me say that again. I loved this book. This was the February book club selection, and 8 out of 9 of us liked or really loved the book... one lady said it "didn't have enough plot." She's not a big lover of character-driven novels. I am. If you are, you'll love this
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book too.

Russo was kind of a genius, his two leading male characters (he uses multiple narrators/POVs, and they both get a chance in the spotlight), both take strong arcs through the story, and I went right along for the ride. I liked both of them in the beginning--I thought Lucy was funny and Bobby was awesomely irreverant--not so much in the middle--Lucy was too needy and Bobby was too selfish and immature--and they were both undeniably redeeming in the end. It's exactly what you'd hope for in characters. Both of the strong female leads (Lucy's mother and then his wife) are strong throughout, very few times do you not really like them (and when you do it's because their actions are being interpreted by somebody else incorrectly), but they're shining in their entirety.

In regard to the writing, Russo's prose is dense, you'll feel like you've been reading for hours, but you've only gotten through 10 pages. He paints an incredibly vivid portrait of this town, you're there with them experiencing it all. He also uses symbolism incredibly well--I picked up an interplay between water (which doesn't always run clean) as an ironic twist on truth woven throughout the story. Additionally, painting and impressions and images are a strong motif about perspective.

I do have to admit that I went through a period of about a week while reading the section directly leading up to and during the climax and it was a really dark time--it affected the way I was looking at things, which is what authors hope their books do, the problem being that this was a dark and heavy section. It's bleak. Life took on a different hue for me during this time. I actually uttered the phrase, "What's the point of it all?" Can you believe that? Crazy, huh?

Anyway, I loved the book, rated it an A (the only drawback was that Russo switched to Sarah's POV for the principal climax, which seemed off-kilter, she hadn't been used too much as a narrator and really important stuff seemingly goes on with Lucy that we only hear about tangentially after the fact that should have been more directly addressed).

I'll repeat my earlier sentiment, if you like character-driven novels, pick this up. Russo's a genius.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Maybe I'm too much like Lucy's mother, but I believe some of these people just need to get on with life. There was way too much introspection and self analysis on the part of everyone. So many questions: "...who hasn't...been victimized and found himself imprisoned in this life?" "In what reality
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was his father a decent guy?" "Had she known in that instant of brutal loss whose comforting embrace and genuine kindness she wanted and needed?" Especially toward the end of the novel--long paragraphs filled with self-examining questions that almost seem like voice overs in a soap opera.

That said, I did enjoy most of the book especially the first half. For a while it seemed like I was reading some sort of weird version of "Happy Days" with the Fonz (Bobby) and Richie (Lucy). I believe there is some food for thought here: Why do some stay where they are and be happily content while others can leave and never look back. However, I think this could have been told in about half the words and half of what I call "overdramatization" of some events. I loved "Empire Falls"; this just doesn't quite make it.
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LibraryThing member LyndaInOregon
First, an admission. This reviewer is partial to Richard Russo’s work. Therefore, discovering this 2007 work which followed immediately on the heels of his magnificent ‘Empire Falls’ was a great thrill.

For about the first hundred pages.

Then the glacial pace and huge scope of this
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coming-of-age tale mingled with an unraveling of what constitutes “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God”, overlaid with the stories of several marriages and parent-child relationships and the ugly class differences lurking in a blue-collar town… Well, it was just too much.

But when one of your favorite authors is presenting a story, one tends to hang on. And hang on. And hang on, far past the point where common sense says “this isn’t going to get any better and you might as well cut your losses”.

Sometimes we need to listen to that voice.

By the time the reader gets to the sixth decade of Lou Lynch’s life and the 500th page of this tome, one is thoroughly tired of his ambivalence, of his unwillingness to let go of childhood friendships which may have disguised any number of betrayals, of his wife whose burning artistic talent just sort of dribbles off into the corner until the final chapter, and even of the new adventure on which he and his wife seem to be embarking.

It’s too much. Just too much. Too many words. Too many characters. Too many simmering conflicts. Too much to ask of any reader, even one whose admiration for the author gets crushed to jelly under the weight of this interminable tale.
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LibraryThing member gwendolyndawson
I liked this book even better than Empire Falls, another of Russo's great books. Russo captures small-town life and small-town ambition perfectly and believably. The artist character (Bobby Noonan) is less believable but still well drawn. Noonan's fate at the end of the book seems a bit like a
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cop-out, but the book is still engaging and well-written throughout. Russo is a master at creating empathetic characters.
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LibraryThing member lycomayflower
It's hard to deny that the scope of this novel, with its several points of view, depiction of a whole town, and portrait of three families living there, is impressive. And it all hangs together, which over the course of 528 densely-packed pages is no small feat. But I just didn't enjoy the novel
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much at all. I got more engaged in the last quarter or so, but it took some doing to get to that point, let me tell you. If this hadn't been a book club book I was determined to finish, I almost certainly would have quit *well* before I got to the stuff I kind of sort of enjoyed.

Much of the narrative, especially in the first half of the book, takes the form of Lou Charles "Lucy" Lynch recalling his childhood, and while there are some deft portrayals of characters and of what it was like to live in a small town in the 50s, not much of it is super compelling. Or at least it wasn't to me. Lucy is not a particularly interesting character, and Russo just failed to make me care about him (or most anyone else in the story, although some of them come much more to life in that aforementioned last quarter of the book). I felt throughout the book that Russo had made very strange choices about what to put on the page, especially when it's revealed that Lucy is an unreliable narrator to the point he has left out *the* most important, compelling, and telling piece of information about his childhood.

I was also sometimes impatient with Russo's use of symbolic actions on the part of his characters. For a book that spends so much time and effort trying to portray something real, it sure uses a lot of over-the-top and heavy-handed imagery to make sure we get something that was perfectly apparent from his storytelling.

On the whole, the portrait of the town and families and how class divisions work there and how they affect everyone's lives was well done, but other than that I was just exhausted by the book. If it had been two hundred pages shorter and Russo had focused his attention slightly differently on his characters, I might have enjoyed it quite a bit.
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LibraryThing member amelish
I'm pretty sure this is a very good book, but I didn't love it... just found it infuriating, the way I'd be infuriated with the people I love, in real life.
LibraryThing member nlezak
Wonderful story! Some memorable characters, and a plot that is beautifully woven. An intimate glimpse of family, love, disappointments and survival.
LibraryThing member tangledthread
"There are two kinds of people in this world....." So begins an oft used phrase that over simplifies our understanding of people into simple dichotomies. It also seems to be the view of the world that Richard Russo leads us into at the beginning of this novel.

Lou Lynch, an eternal optimist who
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views everyone he encounters in the best possible light is paired with his wife, Tessa, who views the actions of people for their ulterior motives. Their young son, Lou C. Lynch whose trusting temperment matches his father is paired with young Bobbie Marconi who trusts no one, especially not his father.

The story quickly progresses to a more realistic exploration and development of characters with all the complexities that motive, desire, class, and race bring to the spectrum of human behavior.

The setting is a small, dying, one business industrial town in upstate New York in the post-war era. Familiar territory shared with Russo's previous book, Empire Falls. The town tannery is polluting the ground water with industrial chemicals while failing to keep pace with changes in the industry. Thus the town is dying both economically and physically.

The story is told in retrospect from the vantage point of Lucy (Lou C.), Bobby Marconi (Noonan), and Sarah Berg Lynch as they turn 60. Much of the narrative is by Lucy as he copes with his wife Sarah's treatment for breast cancer. He tries to write down the past as a way to make it tangible. Bobby (Noonan) and Sarah's voices tend to be third person narrative.

Russo's writing is strong, engaging and he is compassionate with even his most despicable characters. These characters are well developed and there are several key incidents in the story that are told from the perspectives of different characters, and sometimes the same character at different times in their life.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. but felt that the last 100 pages could have been significantly reduced. It made no sense to me that a new, strong character (Kayla) is introduced in the last 50 pages of the book. If she is the the redeemer who pulls Sarah and Lucy back from the Bridge of Sighs, then this aspect seems to be bit contrived in relation to the rest of the story. Hence the last half-star instead of a full 4 stars.
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LibraryThing member emitnick
I listened to the audiobook, which no doubt added hugely to my enjoyment of this satisfying novel about growing up in a small, dying town in the east. Louis Charles Lynch (nicknamed Lucy by classmates) has inherited his dad's sweetness and naivety, leavened by his cynical mother's introspection and
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tendency to question things. All he wants to do is stay in Thomaston, work in his dad's small convenience store, marry his jr. high sweetheart, and live happily ever after. And he does mostly. All by itself, this would not make a compelling story, but Lucy is surrounded by more complex and tortured souls, and both his life and this book are enriched by their presence. Toothsome.
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LibraryThing member mdtocci
I didn't like this book as much as Empire Falls, mostly because the characters weren't really likable. I almost stopped reading the book, and I agree with another reviewer, the book started to make me feel depressed about my life. But the last 50 pages or so saved the book for me, I couldn't wait
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to find out what happened to each of them, and the ending was satisfying.
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LibraryThing member mairangiwoman
Long, lingering story of 3 generations in small town family. Covers their struggles, relationships with one another, excellent character studies.
A bit slow at one point but draws the reader back again. Worth it despite being slightly too long.
LibraryThing member pictou
Currently reading this (2/3 of the way through) and I am so drawn into the lives of the characters that it's hard to put the book down. This may be the best of his books.
LibraryThing member bnbooklady
This book is so good that I can't really bring myself to write a review of it for fear that dissecting and analyzing will somehow take away my good book glow. Russo weaves together the story of three friends and their complicated relationships with each other and their families in this masterfully
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crafted meditation on love, marriage, friendship, commitment, and what could have been.
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LibraryThing member bahbag
Just finished reading this -- it's a wonderful tale full of fully formed characters. It's the first Russo book I've read and I loved it -- especially the character of Sarah.
LibraryThing member lecia1167
Richard Russo is one of my favorite authors. As someone who grew up in a small town, it's nice to read a true telling of life in smalltown America. This book tells a multigenerational story that delves into parent and child relationships, adolescence and morality. A great read!
LibraryThing member writestuff
Bridge of Sighs is a hefty novel, spanning several decades in the lives of three main characters: Sarah, Lou (aka “Lucy”), and Bobby. They grow up together in the small up-state New York town of Thomaston - a factory town poisoned by the tannery which provides the jobs to keep it alive. The
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novel opens in Lou Lynch’s 60th year of life as he begins to look back on his history.

The backdrop of the novel - a poisoned town - and a terrifying event which happens to Lou early in the book, symbolically set the tone for a novel about the dark cracks in relationships, the deep secrets hidden beneath public persona, the ugliness of racism, and the sometimes painful difference between dreams and reality. Russo explores the idea of playing it “safe” vs. taking risks - about being satisfied with one’s choices or having regrets.

Deeply embedded within the pages of this novel is a secondary story - that of two boys and their relationship with their fathers. Bobby Marconi’s father is controlling and a bully who thrives on keeping his wife firmly beneath his thumb. Lou Lynch’s father is uneducated, optimistic and gentle. Bobby’s relationship with his father is characterized by rage; whereas Lou’s relationship with his father is represented by a sense of awe and longing. But, Russo shows that nothing is simple, and love (in all its myriad forms) is complex and often unexplainable.

Ultimately, Bridge of Sighs is the story of families with all their beauty and ugliness, with their smooth surfaces and deep crevices…and how our experiences within our families shapes who we become.

Richard Russo’s prose is graceful and compassionate. This novel unfolds slowly - which may frustrate some readers. It is not a novel to be read quickly; rather it is meant to be read thoughtfully. I found myself at times so deeply entrenched in the lives of the characters that it was like swimming through thick water to come out of the story into my real life. This was a book that I grew to appreciate more as the pages turned.

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LibraryThing member km3scott
A wonderful, if somewhat depressing view at people looking back on their youth. What would they have done differently-the same?
*The story is set in a small new york town visibly, economically, and racially divided into three sections: the West End (poor), the East End (middle) and the Borough
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(wealthy). *Lou (Lucy) Lynch is born to an uneducated, perennially optimistic father and a smart mother who never sees the good in life.
*Lou is a quiet child, his only "friend" being Bobby Marconi. *Bobby is plagued by a angry father and beaten down mother. He plays a large role later in the story.
*Lou's family owns a convenience story.
*He is bullied on the train bridge one day after school. This incident plays heavily in the story. *He marries his high school sweetheart Sarah (who had to choose between the excitement of Bobby and the security of Lou).
*Lou chooses never to leave Thomaston-everything he wants is here? *Although by the end of the story he makes an effort to change.
*Bobby ends up being a well known painter who lives in Venice.
*The story has more than one racial incident-a black boy is nearly beaten to death.
*Lou's father frequently spoke of the "American Dream" *The story ultimately questions this notion.
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LibraryThing member mojacobs
I've read nice reviews of this book,but alas, I do not share these positive feelings. The dullness of the main character permeates everything, to the point that I started thinking: I could not care less what happens next. The characters stay rather one-dimensional, too, which is unusual for Russo,
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who is one of my favourite authors.
But I finally gave up on this book after more than 300 pages (I tried hard!): it is well-written, but writing an interesting novel about "the dullest person on earth" in a dull little town has proved too much even for someone of Russo's calibre.”
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
Sitting in front of you is a huge piece of delicious chocolate cake. It’s covered with fudge icing and slightly chilled to help you enjoy the rich chocolate goodness. Without a doubt, this chocolate cake is an art form all its own.

Presented with such succulent sweetness, are you the type to
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devour it in a few bites because you cannot wait for each delicious morsel? Or, are you more likely to take small bites to enjoy each fudgy nugget as its own tiny piece of heaven?

You are the latter? Great - I highly recommend Richard Russo’s latest book, Bridge of Sighs, to you. Everyone else – the impatient kind like me – probably can skip this turtle of a novel.

In Bridge of Sighs, readers explored the lives of Lou C. (aka Lucy) Chapman and his childhood friend, Robert Noonan (aka Bobby Marconi). Lucy and Robert are exact opposites: Lucy stayed in his small town all his life, Robert was an international artist living in Venice; Lucy was a wimp, Robert was a bully; Lucy was a guy you can count on, Robert made unreliability an art form. The book mostly centered on Lucy’s life with recollections from his childhood mixed with his present life. In Lucy’s sections, the readers learned about Thomaston, New York, over a fifty-year time span – small-town narratives that are the trademark to Russo’s storytelling. Love triangles, racial issues, sickness and bullying all found their place in this book.

While Russo is a master of small-town yarns, he took his time unraveling this story. Have you ever encountered an older gentleman who can talk for hours and hours about his life, each tale its own mini-adventure? That’s Lucy. It took more than 500 pages to get his story told. Each page and chapter rode like a steady tide, with small ebbs and flows. Sometimes a large wave moved the story along, but often it’s the rhythmic push and pull that advanced the story.

It’s no fault of Bridge of Sighs that I continuously lost my patience with this story. In fact, I cannot contend that the book needed better editing or a more direct style. It’s how Richard Russo writes his books, and you either like it or you don’t. I guess I am the kind who eats my chocolate cake really fast.

I would recommend Bridge of Sighs to readers who can take each page and relish in the beautiful language, narrative style and small-town wonder. If you are the patient kind, I think you will be richly rewarded with this tale about friendships and small towns.
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LibraryThing member february270
Not as good as Empire Falls, main characters not very compelling, a slow beginning, picked up around p.250. Still a good full, satisfying read.
LibraryThing member betsywalker
Absolutely wonderful, enjoyed every page.
LibraryThing member tibobi
The Short of It:

A story about love and acceptance and the need for normalcy. This one moves at a much slower pace but has its moments. Those that enjoy books about small town life will enjoy this one.

The Rest of It:

This was my book club's pick for this month. As a whole, most of the group enjoyed
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it but felt that it was much too long. At the time of the meeting, I had not finished it and thought that it was "okay" but not great. However, now that I have finished it, I find myself appreciating the story a bit more.

In a nutshell, Lou C. Lynch (Lucy) is a young boy growing up in a small town. He is surrounded by a loving, supportive family but one that has its own challenges for sure. For one, his dad (also named Lou) is a simple guy with simple values. Lucy's mother, Tessa, is often frustrated with her husband's "pie in the sky" view of life and is determined that her son not follow in his footsteps.

Although I get Tessa's frustration, I also get Lou's eternal optimism. The ability to see good in all situations, and mean it...that's not a trait that a lot of people share. So when Lucy befriends Bobby Marconi, a rebel of sorts with his own problems, we see his parents react to that friendship in different ways. One wants to protect, yet the other sees nothing but good. Sort of a hard situation when a kid is in the middle of that.

As Lucy gets older, and falls in love with Sarah, it begins to dawn on him that Sarah may not want to spend her life in that town—that she may go away to college and not come back. Add to that the dynamic of Lucy's friend Bobby, and what you have are three very good friends trying to figure out who they are.

Have you ever chosen comfort over risk? The characters in this novel are constantly questioning whether it's better to love, or be loved. Is the comfort of family worth more than heading out into the unknown to find out who you really are? I'm not sure I know. I do get the "what if" factor. When you are presented with two choices, and you make your choice, sometimes down the line you ask yourself, "What if...?" To me, this is the main theme of the book. Things change, yet other things remain the same so you ask yourself, "What if?"

Although I agree with my book club that the book should have been trimmed down a bit before publication, I did find myself swept up with the internal conflict within each character. As for the slower pace, I felt that the pace matched that of a small town. It seemed appropriate to me. That said, I was a surprised by the ending. It felt a bit choppy but overall I enjoyed the book.

Russo's new book, That Old Cape Magic just came out and I may pick it up. From what I've read it also focuses on family dynamics and takes place on the Cape, how bad can that be?

Have you read a Russo book? If so, what did you think of it?
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LibraryThing member pcalsdorf
slow reading but very good, great detail
LibraryThing member delphica
(#42 in the 2008 Book Challenge)

What a joy this was to read. I am a big Russo fan and this exceeded expectations. The story flips between two men, in their 60s, who grew up in the same small upstate NY town; one stayed and one left never to return ... with one narrative going forward in time and
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the other going backward (for the most part, it's not that rigid). The plot is very much "stuff happens in a small town" and I was hanging on every word. The events that unfold are fairly standard: kids get picked on by bullies, black people get shafted in 1950s America but kindly old black people are still nice to little kids, parents keep secrets from their children, there is a wacky teacher at the high school, etc etc etc. It's not so much what happens though, but more the way the author successfully rations the information out to you -- not only do you get the plot elements in an order that makes sense despite all the back and forth, but your emotional response is delicately built up as a result of having received the details in a shuffled order. The biggest fault in this novel, and it's not overly intrusive, is that the female lead is practically perfect in every way, and it's a little much at times.

Grade: A+
Recommended: To people who like the "Turbulence Beneath the Surface in a Small Town" genre.
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Indies Choice Book Award (Honor Book — Adult Fiction — 2008)




0375414959 / 9780375414954
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