three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-Bridge of SighsWhen he was a child in the ailing industrial upstate New York town of Thomaston, Lou "Lucy" Lynch befriended Sarah, his future wife, and the aloof Bobby Marconi. He also joined his family's struggles to make their decrepit convenience store profitable. Now 60, planning a trip to Venice with Sarah, and finally living in the wealthier part of town, Lucy reflects on the childhood events and relationships that defined his adult life: a trauma that left him with mysterious spells; the town's vicious racial tensions; his blindly optimistic father and shrewd mother; his adoration of the seductive Bobby, who escaped Thomaston to become a famous expatriate painter-and the love triangle that could have destroyed them all.
Knopf. 528 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0375414959

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"That Russo manages to juggle so many characters, themes, places, and time periods through 528 delicious pages is an astounding achievement. From its lovely beginning to its exquisite, perfect end, Russo has written a masterpiece." Mameve Medwed

USA Today 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It's his most ambitious and best work. ... Russo does wonders with small men with small dreams. Bridge of Sighs is dramatic in a small town kind of way, which is a big part of its beauty." Bob Minzesheimer

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"[Russo] doesn't do nostalgia as a commodity, and he doesn't do bittersweet as a literary device. ... Russo here is doing what he does best, putting a microscope over what looks like vacant territory and showing us the abundant life beneath the surface." Betsy Willeford

San Diego Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The author masterfully reconciles and interweaves local color and social mobility with pertinent characterization as he plays a little temporal leapfrog throughout. ... Shall we draw any lessons from the actual Bridge of Sighs that led to the old prisons and that was regarded-at least legendarily-as the last view of scenic Venice (New England) that convicts saw before their imprisonment?" Gordon Hauptfleisch

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Sarah is treated to a late-breaking plotline that seems a little contrived (as, frankly, does the idea of Lucy writing a memoir), but overall, the novel shifts sure-footedly between the three main characters, tracing the patterns between generations of three families stuck in a literally poisonous town. ... And nobody does upstate New York-with its financial hardship, despair, and several feet of snow-better than Russo." Yvonne Zipp

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Richard Russo was already the patron saint of small-town fiction, but with his new novel, Bridge of Sighs . . . he's produced his most American story. ... This is not a particularly dramatic story-a racially charged high-school beating provides the only real fireworks-but Russo's sensitivity to the currents of friendship and family life, the conflicts, anxieties and irritations that mingle with affection and loyalty, make Bridge of Sighs a continual flow of little revelations." Ron Charles

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"So much of Bridge of Sighs concerns itself with oddball details, from petty rivalries between the Lynch and Marconi families to the Lynch in-house dispute about how to run a convenience store. ... But in the midst of these small matters, the big contours of Bridge of Sighs emerge." Janet Maslin

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1 of 5 Stars
"What [Russo] really wants to pull, I believe, is to write an earnest, charming cautionary tale on the importance of loyalty and perseverance in an atmosphere of trust and forgiveness. What he misses is humanity's power to rise above the ordinary, the quality of transcendence that has lifted wiser novelists to greater heights than Bridge of Sighs." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

In his first novel since the Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls (2001), Richard Russo again explores Main Street, USA, in a bittersweet, multilayered tale about fate, social mobility, humanity, and the limits of choice and self-invention. This time, he casts his compassionate (but never condescending) eye on three families, interweaving Lucy's, Bobby's, and Sarah's stories over 50 years. The Lynch-Marconi rivalry, race relations, high school classes, and the running of the store engaged most critics, though some noted redundancy, a misplaced note of social conscience, and the awkward juxtaposition of Lucy's and Bobby's lives. In the end, however, Bridge fulfills its creator's greatest literary gift: teasing out the intricacies of life in small-town America.