Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I have become a fan of Richard Russo's writing, to the point of cornering him at a book festival here in Ann Arbor and demanding to know when his next book would be published. I had devoured all of his previous works.

Finally released in September, his newest book, The Bridge of Sighs, is both a natural continuation of his brilliant examination of smalltown American life and in marked contrast to his previous efforts; the contrast lying in a kind of sea change in his exploration of family life. In virtually all of his previous works the protaganist is haunted or hounded by a father who is the antithesis of the loving and/ or ineffectual figure of American myth and television. Russo's fathers are, typically, rascals, drunkards or bullies, sometimes embarassing and often frightening, even in death. The parents are, inevitably, divorced, estranged or locked in some tragic relationship from which there seems to be no escape.

Typical, also, is the almost exclusive focus on the father/son relationship, stained and traumatized as it is by that of the parents. And, while those dark themes are ever-present in this new novel, Russo seems to have miraculously stumbled onto an opposite set of circumstances where a son loves and adores his father, where the feelings are mutual, where the reality of the apple not falling far from the tree is not quite as bitter as it is sweet. And, to Russo's great credit, his gift for creating characters, relationships and situations that ring true and move the reader are as evident in this new, almost idyllic world, as they are in his well catalogued explorations of loneliness and tragedy.

I say "almost idyllic" because, in fact, there is plenty of pain, darkness, fear and violence to counter any sense of romanticized family life. Again, to his credit, Russo does not shy away from the realities of racism, violence, poverty and classism in American life. Wheras, previously, Russo masterfully wove humor and irony into his tales of abject loneliness, he now brings in the most painful of realities as counter-point to this uplifting story of Lou C. (Lucy) Lynch and his love affair with his own,imperfect life.

More to come on The Bridge of Sighs,...!

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