From across the room it looked like a painting of a railroad overpass, but in fact I see it’s a stone bridge in Venice, the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the Doge’s Palace in St. Mark’s Square to the adjacent prison. Crossing this bridge, the convicts – at least the ones without money or influence-came to understand that all hope was lost. According to legend, their despairing sighs could be heard echoing in the neighboring canals. -From Bridge of Sighs, page 320-
Bridge of Sighs is a hefty novel, spanning several decades in the lives of three main characters: Sarah, Lou (aka “Lucy”), and Bobby. They grow up together in the small up-state New York town of Thomaston – a factory town poisoned by the tannery which provides the jobs to keep it alive. The novel opens in Lou Lynch’s 60th year of life as he begins to look back on his history.
In our weariness we begin to sense the truth, that more doors have closed behind than remain ahead, and for the first time we’re tempted to swing the telescope around and peer at the world through the wrong end – though who can say it’s wrong? How different things look then! Larger patterns emerge, individual decisions receding into insignificance. To see a life back to front, as everyone begins to do in middle age, is to strip it of its mystery and wrap it in inevitability, drama’s enemy. -From Bridge of Sighs, page 130-
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.
He supposed it was possible this intense loathing was just the affection he felt for his mother turned upside down. -From Bridge of Sighs, page 273-
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.
At sixty, halfway around the world, he was able to see clearly what had eluded him at the time – that the narrative of his life had split onto two tracks that ran, at least for a while, closely parallel. He and his friends were on one, their parents on the other, and neither group realized until it was too late that the tracks’ convergence in the distance was no optical illusion. The Marconis, the Lynches, the Beverlys and the Bergs. Not one of these families would emerge unscathed from the collision. Only one would survive intact. -From Bridge of Sighs, page 413-
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.