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6 Beaverton Literature- A to Z
1 Remote Warehouse Literature- A to Z

Bridge of Sighs: A Novel

by

Bridge of Sighs: A Novel Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Berman Court

First, the facts.

My name is Louis Charles Lynch. I am sixty years old, and for nearly forty of those years Ive been a devoted if not terribly exciting husband to the same lovely woman, as well as a doting father to Owen, our son, who is now himself a grown, married man. He and his wife are childless and likely, alas, to so remain. Earlier in my marriage it appeared as if wed be blessed with a daughter, but a car accident when my wife was in her fourth month caused her to miscarry. That was a long time ago, but Sarah still thinks about the child and so do I.

Perhaps whats most remarkable about my life is that Ive lived all of it in the same small town in upstate New York, a thing unheard of in this day and age. My wifes parents moved here when she was a little girl, so she has few memories before Thomaston, and her situation isnt much different from my own. Some people, upon learning how weve lived our lives, are unable to conceal their chagrin on our behalf, that our lives should be so limited, as if experience so geographically circumscribed could be neither rich nor satisfying. When I assure them that it has been both, their smiles suggest weve been blessed with self-deception by way of compensation for all weve missed. I remind such people that until fairly recently the vast majority of humans have been circumscribed in precisely this manner and that lives can also be constrained by a great many other things: want, illness, ignorance, loneliness and lack of faith, to name just a few. But its probably true my wife would have traveled more if shed married someone else, and my unwillingness to become the vagabond is just one of the ways Ive been, as I said, an unexciting if loyal and unwavering companion. Shes heard all of my arguments, philosophical and other, for staying put; in her mind they all amount to little more than my natural inclination, inertia rationalized. She may be right. That said, I dont think Sarah has been unhappy in our marriage. She loves me and our son and, I think, our life. She assured me of this not long ago when it appeared she might lose her own and, sick with worry, I asked if shed regretted the good simple life weve made together.

Though our pace, never breakneck, has slowed recently, I like to think that the real reason weve not seen more of the world is that Thomaston itself has always been both luxuriant and demanding. In addition to the corner store we inherited from my parents, we now own and operate two other convenience stores. My son wryly refers to these as “the Lynch Empire,” and while the demands of running them are not overwhelming, they are relentless and time-consuming. Each is like a pet that refuses to be housebroken and resents being left alone. In addition to these demands on my time, I also serve on a great many committees, so many, in fact, that late in life Ive acquired a nickname, Mr. Mayor—a tribute to my civic-mindedness that contains, Im well aware, an element of gentle derision. Sarah believes that people take advantage of my good nature, my willingness to listen carefully to everyone, even after its become clear they have nothing to say. She worries that I often return home late in the evening and then not in the best of humors, a natural result of the fact that the civic pie we divide grows smaller each year, even as our communitys needs continue dutifully to grow. Every year the arguments over how we spend our diminished and diminishing assets become less civil, less respectful, and my wife believes its high time for younger men to shoulder their fair share of the responsibility, not to mention the attendant abuse. In principle I heartily agree, though in practice I no sooner resign from one committee than Im persuaded to join another. And Sarahs no one to talk, serving as she has, until her recent illness, on far too many boards and development committees.

Be all that as it may, the well-established rhythms of our adult lives will soon be interrupted most violently, for despite my inclination to stay put, we are soon to travel, my wife and I. I have but one month to prepare for this momentous change and mentally adjust to the loss of my precious routines—my rounds, I call them—that take me into every part of town on an almost daily basis. Too little time, I maintain, for a man so set in his ways, but I have agreed to all of it. Ive had my passport photo taken, filled out my application at the post office and mailed all the necessary documents to the State Department, all under the watchful eye of my wife and son, who seem to believe that my lifelong aversion to travel might actually cause me to sabotage our plans. Owen in particular sustains this unkind view of his father, as if Id deny his mother anything, after all shes been through. “Watch him, Ma,” he advises, narrowing his eyes at me in what I hope is mock suspicion. “You know how he is.”

Italy. We will go to Italy. Rome, then Florence, and finally Venice.

No sooner did I agree than we were marooned in a sea of guidebooks that my wife now studies like a madwoman. “Aqua alta,” she said last night after shed finally turned off the light, her voice near and intimate in the dark. She found my hand and gave it a squeeze under the covers. “In Venice theres something called aqua alta. High water.”

“How high?” I said.

“The calles flood.”

“Whats a calle?”

“If youd do some reading, youd know that streets in Italy are called calles.”

“How many of us need to know that?” I asked her. “Youre going to be there, right? Im not going alone, am I?”

“When the aqua alta is bad, all of St. Marks is underwater.”

“The whole church?” I said. “How tall is it?”

She sighed loudly. “St. Marks isnt a church. Its a plaza. The plaza of San Marco. Do you need me to explain what a plaza is?”

Actually, Id known that calles were streets and hadnt really needed an explanation of aqua alta either. But my militant ignorance on the subject of all things Italian has quickly become a game between us, one we both enjoy.

“We may need boots,” my wife ventured.

“We have boots.”

“Rubber boots. Aqua alta boots. They sound a siren.”

“If you dont have the right boots, they sound a siren?”

She gave me a swift kick under the covers. “To warn you. That the high waters coming. So youll wear your boots.”

“Who lives like this?”

“Venetians.”

“Maybe Ill just sit in the car and wait for the water to recede.”

Another kick. “No cars.”

“Right. No cars.”

“Lou?”

“No cars,” I repeated. “Got it. Calles where the streets should be. No cars in the calles, though, not one.”

“We havent heard back from Bobby.”

Our old friend. Our third musketeer from senior year of high school. Long, long gone from us. She didnt have to tell me we hadnt heard back. “Maybe hes moved. Maybe he doesnt live in Venice anymore.”

“Maybe hed rather not see us.”

“Why? Why would he not want to see us?”

I could feel my wife shrug in the dark, and feel our sense of play running aground. “Hows your story coming?”

“Good,” I told her. “Ive been born already. A chronological approach is best, dont you think?”

“I thought you were writing a history of Thomaston,” she said.

“Thomastons in it, but so am I.”

“How about me?” she said, taking my hand again.

“Not yet. Im still just a baby. Youre still downstate. Out of sight, out of mind.”

“You could lie. You could say I lived next door. That way wed always be together.” Playful again, now.

“Ill think about it,” I said. “But the people who actually lived next door are the problem. Id have to evict them.”

“I wouldnt want you to do that.”

“It is tempting to lie, though,” I admitted.

“About what?” She yawned, and I knew shed be asleep and snoring peacefully in another minute or two.

“Everything.”

“Lou?”

“What.”

“Promise me you wont let it become an obsession.”

Its true. Im prone to obsession. “It wont be,” I promised her.

But Im not the only reason my wife is on guard against obsession. Her father, who taught English at the high school, spent his summers writing a novel that by the end had swollen to more than a thousand single-spaced pages and still with no end in sight. I myself am drawn to shorter narratives. Of late, obituaries. It troubles my wife that I read them with my morning coffee, going directly to that section of the newspaper, but turning sixty does that, does it not? Death isnt an obsession, just a reality. Last month I read of the death—in yet another car accident—of a man whose life had been intertwined with mine since we were boys. I slipped it into the envelope that contained my wifes letter, the one that announced our forthcoming travels, to our old friend Bobby, who will remember him well. Obituaries, I believe, are really less about death than the odd shapes life takes, the patterns that death allows us to see. At sixty, these patterns are important.

“Im thinking fifty pages should do it. A hundred, tops. And Ive already got a title: The Dullest Story Ever Told.”

When she had no response to this, I glanced over and saw that her breathing had become regular, that her eyes were closed, lids fluttering.

Its possible, of course, that Bobby might prefer not to see us, his oldest friends. Not everyone, Sarah reminds me, values the past as I do. Dwells on it, she no doubt means. Loves it. Is troubled by it. Alludes to it in conversation without appropriate transition. Had I finished my university degree, as my mother desperately wanted me to, it would have been in history, and that might have afforded me ample justification for this inclination to gaze backward. But Bobby—having fled our town, state and nation at eighteen—may have little desire to stroll down memory lane. After living all over Europe, he might well have all but forgotten those he fled. I can joke about mine being “the dullest story ever told,” but to a man like Bobby it probably isnt so very far from the truth. I could go back over my correspondence with him, though I think I know what Id find in it—polite acknowledgment of whatever Ive sent him, news that someone wed both known as boys has married, or divorced, or been arrested, or diagnosed, or died. But little beyond acknowledgment. His responses to my newsy letters will contain no requests for further information, no Do you ever hear from so-and-so anymore? Still, Im confident Bobby would be happy to see us, that my wife and I havent become inconsequential to him.

Why not admit it? Of late, he has been much on my mind.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Chris Johnson, June 3, 2008 (view all comments by Chris Johnson)
Richard Russo continues to explore the interactions between love, friendship, and family. I think this is his most ambitious book so far, and I give him full marks for challenging himself and his readers. The Bridge of Sighs is a bridge in Venice over which prisoners used to pass on their way to prison, often seeing Venice for the last time. Russo skillfully manages this as a metaphor throughout the book, while also pulling together apparently independent threads of narrative. The first half of the book is a dead-on description of the trials of junior high school in '50s - '70s America, which had me squirming with recognition, and was the highlight of the book for me.

Russo chose as his primary narrative the first-person account of Lou C. Lynch. In keeping with the character's personality, the writing is generally plain, straightforward prose. In one sense, this is a real accomplishment because it so perfectly fits the character. On the other hand, as others have commented, it makes for slow going at times. Not all of the book is narrated by Lynch. Parts of the book feature an omniscient narrator (or two, I sometimes felt - a Thomaston narrator and a Noonan narrator). This shifting perspective is necessary for the plot, but is sometimes awkward. Unlike Russo's other novels, the ending of Bridge of Sighs seemed aimless to me and left me disappointed. If you've read and enjoyed any of his other books, you should read Bridge of Sighs. If you are new to Richard Russo, I would recommend Nobody's Fool or Empire Falls as a better place to start.
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K Bloom, December 24, 2007 (view all comments by K Bloom)
This was a beautifully written book in my opinion. Okay. It is not a thriller and it doesn't come with all the lovable loser main characters that we have come to love in Russo's earlier works. Many people here have complained about the book not having "likeable" characters and that they are "stale and boring". I believe the main character was too nice and therefore some readers resented that. Too bad. There must be many people like him (even if I don't know any), but who cares. It's the storytelling that counts. This is a different Richard Russo book in some respects and I'm very happy to have read it.Good for him and us too! I'd also recommend reading Tino Georgiou's bestselling novel--The Fates--if you haven't yet
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bohola1959, November 29, 2007 (view all comments by bohola1959)
Having looked forward to another great read, I was disappointed. Though Mr. Russo is a great writer, I had trouble with the structure of the book and the repetitivenss of the characterizations. Had the book not been quite as long, perhaps I would have had the patience to ignore its faults.

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Product Details

ISBN:
9780375414954
Author:
Russo, Richard
Publisher:
Knopf Publishing Group
Author:
Just, Ward
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
City and town life
Subject:
Friendship
Subject:
New york (state)
Subject:
Italy
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
September 25, 2007
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
544
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 0.98 lb

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Bridge of Sighs: A Novel Used Hardcover
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Product details 544 pages Knopf Publishing Group - English 9780375414954 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Russo is a modern master of absorbing characters, brilliantly sharp dialogue, and a warm-hearted yet strangely thrilling storytelling style. The only sighs this elegiac novel produces are of wistful satisfaction.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Signature Reviewed by Jeffrey Frank Richard Russo's portraits of smalltown life may be read not only as fine novels but as invaluable guides to the economic decline of the American Northeast. Russo was reared in Gloversville, N.Y. (which got its name from the gloves no longer manufactured there), and a lot of mid — 20th-century Gloversville can be found in his earlier fiction (Mohawk; The Risk Pool). It reappears in Bridge of Sighs, Russo's splendid chronicle of life in the hollowed-out town of Thomaston, N.Y., where a tannery's runoff is slowly spreading carcinogenic ruin.At the novel's center is Lou C. Lynch (his middle initial wins him the unfortunate, lasting nickname 'Lucy'), but the narrative, which covers more than a half-century, also unfolds through the eyes of Lou's somewhat distant and tormented friend, Bobby Marconi, as well as Sarah Berg, a gifted artist who Lou marries and who loves Bobby, too. The lives of the Lynches, the Bergs and the Marconis intersect in various ways, few of them happy; each family has its share of woe. Lou's father, a genial milkman, is bound for obsolescence and leads his wife into a life of shopkeeping; Bobby's family is being damaged by an abusive father. Sarah moves between two parents: a schoolteacher father with grandiose literary dreams and a scandal in his past and a mother who lives in Long Island and leads a life that is far from exemplary. Russo weaves all of this together with great sureness, expertly planting clues — and explosives, too — knowing just when and how they will be discovered or detonate at the proper time. Incidents from youth — a savage beating, a misunderstood homosexual advance, a loveless seduction — have repercussions that last far into adulthood. Thomaston itself becomes a sort of extended family, whose unhappy members include the owners of the tannery who eventually face ruin.Bridge of Sighs is a melancholy book; the title refers to a painting that Bobby is making (he becomes a celebrated artist) and the Venetian landmark, but also to the sadness that pervades even the most contented lives. Lou, writing about himself and his dying, blue-collar town, thinks that 'the loss of a place isn't really so different from the loss of a person. Both disappear without permission, leaving the self diminished, in need of testimony and evidence.' If there are false notes, they come with Russo's portrayal of African-Americans, who too often speak like stock characters: ('Doan be given me that hairy eyeball like you doan believe, 'cause I know better,' says one). But Russo has a deep and real understanding of stifled ambitions and the secrets people keep, sometimes forever. Bridge of Sighs, on every page, is largehearted, vividly populated and filled with life from America's recent, still vanishing past. Jeffrey Frank's books include The Columnist and Bad Publicity. His novel, Trudy Hopedale, was published in July by Simon & Schuster. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Here is the novel Russo was born to write....It is a seamless interweaving of childhood memories, tragic incidents, and unforgettable dialogue that is so natural, funny, and touching that it may, perhaps, be the best of Russo's many gifts."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[E]ngrossing....Russo writes about these characters...with such warmth that, whether it turns out to be a hellhole or heaven on earth, you're grateful to be back on his turf. (Grade: B+)"
"Review" by , "It is a novel of great warmth, charm and intimacy, but not one of earth-shattering revelations....Some of this book's most memorable moments take the form of sharp, funny storytelling. Some emerge more amorphously through intuitive visions."
"Review" by , "[Russo's] most ambitious and best work....It's a big-hearted novel, driven by vivid and complex characters....Bridge of Sighs is dramatic in a small town kind of way, which is a big part of its beauty."
"Review" by , "Despite the fact that its title points us to the familiar Venetian span, Bridge of Sighs settles us firmly in Richard Russo territory....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."
"Review" by , "While Russo's tale gets off to a slow start and the attempt to tell the parallel stories of Louis and Bobby is not always successful, Russo's novel is nevertheless a winning story of the strange ways that parents and children, lovers and friends connect and thrive."
"Review" by , "While perhaps not quite the equal of Empire Falls, Bridge of Sighs is anchored by the wry humor and innate decency Russo brings to his characters....And nobody does upstate New York...better than Russo."
"Review" by , "[I]n the course of this enormous and enormously moving novel, I was continually seduced by Russo's insight and gentle humor, his ability to discern the ways we love and frustrate each other."
"Review" by , "[A]bsorbing, bittersweet and multifaceted....[Russo] masterfully reconciles and interweaves local color and social mobility with pertinent characterization..."
"Review" by , "Russo makes all his characters come alive on the page. In so doing, yet again, he provides the kind of compelling company any serious reader of fiction knows doesn't come along often."
"Review" by , "As you reach the end, you want to turn back to the opening pages and start once again. Russo's ability to present individuals with dignity and grace make this a quietly astounding novel that should be on everyone's fall reading list."
"Synopsis" by , Six years after his bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls, Russo returns with a novel that expands his widely heralded achievement. This new work courses with small-town rhythms and the claims of family, yet it is brilliantly enlarged by an expatriate whose motivations and experiences prove every bit as mesmerizing as they resonate through these richly different lives.
"Synopsis" by ,
Tommy Ogden, a Gatsbyesque character living in a mansion outside robber-baron-era Chicago, declines to give his wife the money to commission a bust of herself from the French master Rodin and announces instead his intention to endow a boys school. Ogdens decision reverberates years later in the life of Lee Goodell, whose coming of age is at the heart of Ward Justs emotionally potent new novel. 

Lees life decisionsto become a sculptor, to sojourn in the mean streets of the South Side, to marry into the haute-intellectual culture of Hyde Parkplay out against the crude glamour of midcentury Chicago. Justs signature skill of conveying emotional heft with few words is put into play as Lee confronts the meaning of his four years at Ogden Hall School under the purview, in the school library, of a bust known as Rodins Debutante. And, especially, as he meets again a childhood friend, the victim of a brutal sexual assault of which she has no memory. It was a crime marking the end of Lees boyhood and the beginning of his understandingso powerfully under the surface of Justs masterly storythat how and what we remember add up to nothing less than our very lives.

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