About the Book:
Louis “Lucy” Lynch has loved his small-town life for the whole 60-year span he’s been living it. He’s been married to Sarah, his high school sweetheart, for two thirds of it. They’re about to take a trip to Italy when the book begins, leaving their small collection of convenience stores in the capable hands of their son while they’re away. Meanwhile, in Italy, Robert Noonan — once called Bobby Marconi and Lucy’s best friend — is immersed in the world of a successful but troubled painter. It’s been decades since he and Lucy saw one another, and Noonan is fine with that. He’s too wrapped up in his own problems to care about his roots.
It’s when Lucy decides to write down some of his childhood memories that the past starts to mingle with the present and the long, complicated relationships between the three principle characters begin to unfurl.
For whatever reason, Richard Russo is one of those authors I’ve felt I “should” read. There was a short period when I’d pick up whichever of his books crossed my path at a library sale. I ended up with two: Bridge of Sighs and Empire Falls. Of the two, Bridge of Sighs got tackled first because my library had it on audio.
I really had no idea what to expect going in. I don’t even think I knew what Bridge of Sighs was supposed to be about. Which was actually probably a good thing, because I have a feeling it’s one of those books that’s really hard to make sound interesting in a blurb. (You tell me…how’s it sound from the blurb above?) Three people well into middle age, their lives unfolding slowly in the present as they wander back through the early years they knew each other. For 600+ pages (or 21 discs, in my case). True, some books need to be long. I am, for instance, in the middle of Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True, which is even longer than Bridge of Sighs, and that story is positively gripping. But Bridge of Sighs felt long. Really long. Too long.
It wasn’t that I actively disliked the book. There just wasn’t much about it to sway me toward the “liked it” side of the line. It was more that…nothing changed. The characters grew up to be adult versions of their child and adolescent selves. The small town where they grew up stayed the same. Because three different characters were dipping in and out of history throughout the book, some events even got repeated. And not in a way that added much of anything to the event but just sort of rehashed the details I’d already gotten from someone else’s point of view. It all started to feel stagnant and tedious.
It also sort of bothered me that one character (Lucy) spoke in first person, while the other two (Sarah and Robert) shared their few recollections in the third person. I either wanted a narrator who was apart from the characters and could logically delve into each one’s experiences and memories or a single first-person narrator and all the gaps that comes with such a voice. I felt like I knew too much about Sarah and Robert for a book about Lucy, but not enough about Sarah and Robert for it to really be a book about all three.
And then the ending. I really hate it when endings don’t seem to fit their books. I’ve stopped reading Ann Patchett because of the way she consistently snaps any thread of connection I have to the story with her disconcertingly out-of-left-field endings. Bridge of Sighs wasn’t as bad as that, but it still left me rolling my eyes and reaching for a new book before the reader had finished the audiobook credits.
Speaking of the reader, Arthur Morey, though: He was good. I liked his pacing and inflection. He sounded the way I imagined Lucy would sound. That created a slight disconnect when he was reading parts about Sarah or Robert, but that wasn’t his fault.
I do have to say that Russo did a great job building up a world for his characters and populating it with memorable characters. Lucy and his father were particularly well drawn, I thought. True, not much seems to have changed in the 40+ years between the narrators’ present and the past they’re remembering, but that doesn’t make them less memorable. So there’s that.
The Verdict: Mediocre
I feel like I’m being a bit harsh. It wasn’t all bad, just sort of flat. Most likely it seemed even flatter because I was reading Black Swan Green by David Mitchell at the same time. Talk about a tough act to share the stage with! I still plan on trying Empire Falls and will hold out hope of being pleasantly surprised.
What’s the last book you read that just sort of flopped?