I listened to Richard Russo’s Bridge Of Sighs in it’s audio book format while on vacation. Although, the many characters all have depth and are finely drawn, I’d describe it more as a novel of fathers and sons, of parents and their off-spring. Of the choices we make with our lives that put us on divergent, unalterable paths. The choices are never clear, either. The young (when they have a choice, and due to station in life, sometimes it seems they really do not) are usually given parents who serve as very contradictory role models.
Certainly BOS is a novel of class and opportunity. And even more certainly, a novel of place. In this case a fictional upstate New York town: Thomaston. The town is laid out as an economic grid. There are the Haves who live in the Borough section. There are the Have-Nots who live in the West End. And there are the tweeners, the strivers who live in the East End. East End and West End are conveniently divided by a street called, appropriately enough, Division. These socio-economic ghettos are masterfully rendered by Russo.
I had no sense of how long this book was – a formidable 544 pages in the hardcover edition. Since I listened to it as an audio book, I didn’t have the heft of it in my hands. Though it took many hours to listen to it, it never felt padded. Yet it could also be described as a small book. A novel with a very limited scale of concerns – though important ones. Russo is a natural storyteller, and none of his anecdotes or stories (as remembered in what was essentially a diary format), ever lagged or failed to hold interest. Only one late narrative turn seemed a bit forced. But that’s a minor quibble in a very enjoyable novel.
This should be pointed out, however. The guy who plays it safe in life, seems the happiest, most satisfied with his lot, if not the most successful. His destiny was ‘manifest’ from the start. The guy who takes the riskier route (sure, he really has no choice) ends up successful, though not particularly happy. This is a troubling message to me. And notone which I’d guess Russo meant to convey.