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.
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 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.
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 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.
For about the first hundred pages.
Then the glacial pace and huge scope of this 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.
Lou Lynch, an eternal optimist who 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.
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.
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.
Presented with such succulent sweetness, are you the type to 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.
A bit slow at one point but draws the reader back again. Worth it despite being slightly too long.
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.
*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 (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.