email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""Who Could That Be at This Hour?"3 Willows4th of July99 DaysA Beautiful MindA Change in AltitudeA Corner Of The UniverseA Falling KnifeA Frog ThingA Great and Terrible BeautyA People's History of ChristianityA Question of BloodA Slight Trick of the MindA Step Toward FallingA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Tragic Kind of WonderfulA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December Abraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesADHD NationAfter DarkAgainst EmpathyAgainst Medical AdviceAll the Bright PlacesAll the Way HomeAll Unquiet ThingsAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAmerica AmericaAmong the DepartedAn EducationAn Object of BeautyAnatomy of a MisfitAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaBad BoyBad RatsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeauty QueensBed of RosesBefore I DieBefore I FallBefore the FrostBig BrotherBiteBlack Elk SpeaksBlameBleed for MeBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBody SurfingBog ChildBoneMan's DaughtersBoomsdayBorder CrossingBorn Standing UpBoys Are DogsBoys Will Put You on a Pedestal (So They Can Look Up Your Skirt)Brava, ValentineBreak Through PainBreathingBridge of SighsBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBrutalBy BloodC StreetCalm Beneath the WavesCanadaCellCemetery DanceChange Your Brain, Change Your LifeCheeverCinnamon KissCleopatraClose Your EyesCompulsionCross CountryCyborgasmDakotaDancing at the Shame PromDarkest FearDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDead EvenDead Little Mean GirlDear Zoe,Death Without TenureDeceptionDefending JacobDefine NormalDeliriumDevil in the DetailsDiscovering Pig MagicDisturbing GroundDivergentDivine JusticeDivisaderoDoing ItDown the Rabbit HoleDr. Andrew Weil's Mindbody ToolkitDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDriftlessEven Dogs in the WildEvery Exquisite ThingEvery Little Thing in the WorldEye ContactFaith, Hope, and Ivy JuneFaking NormalFalling ManFamily FirstFans of the Impossible LifeFear of the DarkFellsideField of BloodFile Under: 13 Suspicious IncidentsFiregirlFlat Lake in WinterForest of the PygmiesFortunate SonFraudFreak the MightyFree RefillsFull Steam Ahead!Furiously HappyGenerosityGenomeGetting a Good Night's SleepGetting the Love You Want Audio CompanionGiftedGirl in TranslationGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoing BovineGood and GoneGranny Torrelli Makes SoupGraysonHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHarmlessHe's Just Not That Into YouHealthy AgingHeartbeatHeftHigh HeatHolidays on IceHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow Full Is Your Bucket?How Successful People ThinkHow to Build a HouseHow to See Yourself As You Really AreHow to Set a Fire and WhyHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurt Go HappyHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenI Am I Am I AmI Am Not Joey PigzaI Can See YouI Drink for a ReasonI Feel Bad About My NeckI'd Know You AnywhereI'm Traveling AloneIdiot AmericaIf a Tree Falls at Lunch PeriodIf I StayIf You StayImagine Me GoneIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestInheritanceInnocentInside the O'BriensInvincibleInvisibleIt Takes OneJennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, ElizabethJust LifeKiss of Broken GlassKissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys)Leaping BeautyLie to MeLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife InterruptedLife of PiLife StrategiesLisey's StoryLitLittle Black LiesLittle ScarletLive For Your Listening PleasureLiving Your DreamLong Shadow of Small GhostsLooking for BobowiczLost in the ForestLove Is a Mix TapeLove Times ThreeLove, AubreyLowboyMadappleMade for LoveMade For YouMagical ThinkingMagnificenceMaliceMan in the WoodsMeditation in a New York MinuteMeetings with a Remarkable ManMiddlesexMind MappingMindfulness for BeginnersMirrorMaskMischlingMissing PresumedMolly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismMommies Who DrinkMunich AirportMy AbandonmentMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Name Is RedMy One Hundred AdventuresMy Sister's KeeperName All the AnimalsNelson Mandela's Favorite African FolktalesNemesisNever Let Me GoNew York 2140Night FilmNina: AdolescenceNinety DaysNone of the AboveNothingNurtureShockObjects of My AffectionOdd Child OutOlive's OceanOn Chesil BeachOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestOutliersPaint It BlackPanicParadise LodgeParanoiaPeace Is Every BreathPeople Who Eat DarknessPharmakonPictures of Hollis WoodsPictures of YouPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying with FirePlease Stop Laughing at UsPositivityPresumed InnocentPretty Girl-13Prisoner of Night and FogPuddlejumpersPunkzillaRacing the DevilReady for AnythingRebuttalRequiemRescueRevolutionary RoadRoomRun for Your LifeSay You're SorryScatSchool of FearSeason to TasteSecrets of a Passionate MarriageSee How SmallSeeds of HopeSex and SpiritSide Effects May VarySilencedSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSix Impossible ThingsSkelligSleeping BeautySnowSo Brave, Young and HandsomeSolitaireSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful to YouSourlandSquirrel Seeks ChipmunkStill MissingStory of a GirlStress ReliefSupreme CourtshipSurviving OpheliaSwimming to ElbaSworn to SilenceSycamoreSymptoms of Being HumanTeaseTeaseTell the Truth, Shame the DevilTen Minutes to RelaxTestimonyThat Old Cape MagicThe DrifterThe Abortionist's DaughterThe AccidentalThe Accidental BillionairesThe AdultsThe Almost MoonThe Anatomy of HopeThe ArrangementThe Art of ChoosingThe Art of Exceptional LivingThe Artist of DisappearanceThe Average American MarriageThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe Beat Goes OnThe Best AwfulThe Big LoveThe Boat RockerThe Book of JoeThe Book of LiesThe Book of the DeadThe Boy Who DaredThe Boyfriend ListThe Brass VerdictThe Breakout PrincipleThe Burden of ProofThe Case for GodThe Case of the Case of Mistaken IdentityThe Cemetery BoysThe ChemistThe Chosen OneThe ClosersThe Consciousness PlagueThe Conspiracy ClubThe Cuckoo's CallingThe Day I Ate Whatever I WantedThe Dead Fathers ClubThe Death of Bunny MunroThe Devotion of Suspect XThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Diviner's TaleThe DollmakerThe Dressmaker of Khair KhanaThe Dynamite RoomThe Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round ThingsThe EndThe End of Our StoryThe Erotic EdgeThe Essential KamasutraThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe Forgotten GirlsThe Fortunate OnesThe Geography of You and MeThe Gift of an Ordinary DayThe Gingerbread GirlThe Girl in 6EThe Girl in the GardenThe Girl on Mill StreetThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestThe Girl Who Played with FireThe Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Grief of OthersThe Grim GrottoThe Guise of AnotherThe Guy Not TakenThe Heart of YogaThe Hearts of MenThe Heretic's DaughterThe Ice QueenThe Ice TwinsThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe InseparablesThe InterestingsThe Keeper of Lost CausesThe Keeper of Lost ThingsThe Kings of LondonThe Language God TalksThe Language of SecretsThe Language Of YogaThe Last ChildThe Last MileThe Last Time We Say GoodbyeThe Male BrainThe Man from BeijingThe Man in My BasementThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Map of True PlacesThe Marriage PlotThe Memory Book The Mermaids SingingThe Ministry of Special CasesThe MuralistThe Museum of InnocenceThe Mystery of the Third LucretiaThe Myth of LazinessThe NarrowsThe Necessary Death of Lewis WinterThe New YorkersThe NewleywedsThe NixThe NursesThe Opposite of InvisibleThe Other Side of the StoryThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThe PastThe Penultimate PerilThe Perfect GirlThe PostcardThe Pregnant WidowThe Promise of a LieThe PyramidThe Qi Healing KitThe ReaderThe Republican BrainThe Rule of FourThe Rules of SurvivalThe Savage CityThe ScarecrowThe Second GirlThe Secret Life of BeesThe Secret of Lost ThingsThe Secret ScriptureThe Secret SpeechThe Secret Wisdom of the EarthThe ShallowsThe SharkThe Shock of the FallThe Silent BoyThe SisterThe Sound of Broken GlassThe SpindlersThe Story HourThe Story of Beautiful GirlThe Sudden Arrival of ViolenceThe Survivors ClubThe Sweet Relief of Missing ChildrenThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieThe Tail of Emily WindsnapThe Tenth JusticeThe Thing About JellyfishThe Third AngelThe TouristThe Treasure Map of BoysThe Trouble with Goats and SheepThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia MossThe UnquietThe Unseen WorldThe VegetarianThe View from SaturdayThe WaveThe Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Weight of the NationThe Whole TruthThe WilloughbysThe Witch's BoyThe Wolves of AndoverThe Words We Live ByThe Wrong Side of GoodbyeThe Year of the FloodThe Year That FollowsThe Yin Yoga KitThirteen Reasons WhyThis Beautiful LifeThis Body of DeathThis Book Is Not Good For YouThis Full HouseThis Is HowThose GirlsThose Who Wish Me DeadTony & SusanToo Much HappinessTooth and NailTouchTransformation TriburbiaTrue BelieverTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTwinmakerTwistedTwo Can PlayTwo Little Girls in BlueUnaccustomed EarthUnder Rose-Tainted SkiesUnder the HarrowUnder the InfluenceUnder WildwoodUniversal HarvesterUnlessUnthinkingUp in the AirVery ValentineVisits from The Drowned GirlVoid MoonWaiting for SunriseWalkingWarWatching the DarkWays to Die in GlasgowWe Are OkayWhat the Dog SawWhen My Heart Joins the ThousandWhen We Were AnimalsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhen You Reach MeWhere She WentWherever You Go, There You AreWhite HotWild AwakeWild ChildWildwoodWill They Ever Trust Us Again?Wolf in White VanWomen's Murder Club Box SetYoga SanctuaryYou Know Me WellYou Look Different in Real LifeYou Should Have KnownYou Will Know Me
On seeing that Richard Russo has written yet another novel about small town life in upstate New York where the industry is declining and people are moving away, one might expect more of the same. Russo is extremely good at setting out the small details of this world, and putting it in historical context, so there's real pleasure to be found in his unfolding stories of local characters. However, Bridge of Sighs is a more ambitious novel with philosophical aims; in this work, Russo explores the roots of human behavior, the possibility of freewill, and even the nature of happiness. He also grapples with race relations, marriage, and of course the relationships between fathers and sons. The main narrator is Louis Charles Lynch, known to most around town as "Lucy," who is an affable and bland. At first, one yearns for a more eccentric and interesting central character, such as Miles Roby in Russo's Empire Falls or the no-good Sully of Nobody's Fool. Gradually though, as he tells more of his own story, he becomes more complex, and the story also takes the point of view of several other main characters; specifically Lucy's wife Sarah and his childhood friend Bobby. By the end, Russo has set out a manifesto for the inevitability of people being who they are and the possibility of making a good life for oneself anyway.
The plot is simple enough in its main arc. Lucy is now 60 years old and he is looking back on his life, so he embarks on writing about his childhood. He writes about his formative experiences, the relationship between his perpetually optimistic father and his more cynical mother, an episode of bullying which deeply affected him and left him with episodic trance-like spells that made him weak, his tentative friendship with Bobby Marconi, meeting Sarah and their initial relationship, and the family's financial troubles as the local leather tanning industry winds down and the growth in supermarkets puts his father's job as a milkman in jeopardy. Most of the detail goes into describing Lucy's life between the ages of about 10 and 20; some of the details of the intervening years are briefly filled in, and Russo goes into the recent lives of Lucy, Sarah and Bobby. Lucy and Sarah have a son, who is married, but not very happily. Sarah has made many sacrifices in her life, staying in the home town of Thomaston to be with Lucy, rather than follow through on her promising career as an artist. Bobby has, amazingly, become a major artist, and now lives in Venice. Bobby has had a life of great artistic creation, yet he is now preoccupied with the past too, and is working it out with his latest canvas. He has never settled down in a long-term marriage, and he seems deeply unsatisfied with his life, to the extent of having night terrors and saying out loud in his sleep that he was sorry. He hasn't seen Lucy and Sarah since he left town just after high school, now over 40 years ago. But now it seems that there's a chance they will meet up again: his old friends are planning a vacation to Italy, and what's more, Bobby is considering taking up an offer to spend a semester as a visiting artist at Columbia University. So there's a chance they can all meet up and reminisce about old times, maybe achieving some sort of resolution.
Russo's descriptions of Bobby's current life are by far the weakest of the book. Bobby now calls himself 'Noonan,' and while is a well-known painter living in Venice, one gets very little sense of how or why he became an artist. For Russo, Bobby's transformation into an artist after leaving his hometown seems to have mainly symbolic meaning: it is a release of creativity after escaping the confines of a repressive and conservative life, and also an expression of all the frustrations that were caused by his childhood, especially his turbulent relationship with his father. Bobby's current relationships -- an affair with a married painter, a fight with the woman's husband, and a game of cat and mouse with his agent who is visiting from New York -- all feel basically expository and seem superfluous. Even the emotional breakthrough he achieves through his painting has minimal resonance, despite their connection with the past. Russo's portrayal of the present-day Noonan lacks vigor and distinctness, and it is a relief when he moves on from those portions of the novel.
By way of contrast, the other main event to happen in the present works much better. Sarah spends some time visiting Long Island, where she used to visit her mother during the summers after her parents divorced. Her trip away from her hometown gives her the opportunity to reflect on her life and the choices she made early in her life; the continuity between her older self and her younger self makes this episode far more convincing, and the details of the location are also more vivid.
As a meditation on freedom and fate, Bridge of Sighs will provoke deliberation: the similarity between Lucy and his father Lou is genetic, and all the characters are basically set in their ways. Lou is determined to see the good in most people and wants to be their friends, except with his brother Dec who he writes off as unreliable and mean spirited. Lucy is critical of his own son Owen, thinking his life too short on passion, but Sarah points out that Owen is his father's son. Sarah and Bobby are the only characters in the story who really have the initiative and talent to leave Thomaston, and Lucy has more in common with Bobby than she does with Lucy. She could have escaped when she went to college, but she got pulled back, while Bobby had to leave town because he was in trouble, and that trouble was itself inevitable. So even Bobby's escape was not due to his own planning but the fate that was set for him from the start. Quite how Bobby became a successful artist is never explained, so the novel is silent on to what extent he was the author of his own career.
While Russo's novel has some flaws, it is memorable both in its details and its themes. The broadening of Russo's horizons from the scope of his previous novels is most welcome, even if it proceeds a little awkwardly. The performance in the unabridged audiobook by Arthur Morey seems to be a little slow and ponderous at first, but as we get to know Lucy, it turns out to fit his character very well. What's more, it serves well in its steadiness to help the listener through the 27 hours of the reading.
© 2008 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.