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Bridge of Sighs    by Richard Russo order for
Bridge of Sighs
by Richard Russo
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Richard Russo is one of the greatest American novelists living today, and he proves this over and over again. In addition to the fact that he won the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, I offer his latest novel, Bridge of Sighs, as evidence. Russo is known for his portrayal of small town life and the minutiae of everyday existence. In Bridge of Sighs, as in his other novels, his characters are as real as they get for fiction.

The story weaves through time and is told from the perspective of protagonist Lou 'Lucy' Lynch. The author shifts from first to third person - sometimes giving the illusion that there are more than three central characters - when he tells the life stories of Lucy as a child; of Lucy's wife Sarah; and of their friend, Bobby Marconi.

Lucy has lived in Thomaston, New York his entire life, rarely leaving his comfort zone. Ever since a traumatic incident when he was a child, he has been afflicted by a series of spells that transport him out of the present. His wife Sarah was his childhood sweetheart, although she first fell in love with his family and his family's neighborhood store, Ikey's. When she first drew a picture of the store, she became part of his family.

Then there is Bobby Marconi, Lucy's childhood friend from the wrong side of the tracks. Bobby and Sarah have their little secrets, just like most everyone in the book, and Bobby has an opportunity to reinvent himself after he escapes his small town life and travels to Italy to pursue a long held artist's dream. The secrets shared by many of the characters are gradually revealed, and the author does a fine job of letting these unfold as the story progresses.

Sarah is an artist too and, although the author skims over this, she is a cancer survivor. The town of Thomaston has an inordinate cancer rate, attributed to a tannery that has since shut down.

Equally important in the story are the parents of Bobby, Lucy and Sarah, although they don't get their own voice; the reader sees them through the eyes of the only first person narrator. The families of Lucy, Sarah and Bobby all intersect as the three are growing up. Their shared histories and intimacies are played out on the pages. In fact, Lucy's relationship with his parents, particularly his father, is key to his ability to understand himself and his world.

Bridge of Sighs is primarily about family, security, familiarity, and dreams unrealized. It is also about preconceived notions, class division, and the fact that you can't escape your past - it affects you and shapes you no matter how hard you try to deny it or run away from it. Much like Seinfeld was a show about nothing, Russo's novels are not plot-heavy but character-driven. This ambitious slice of life novel was compelling, slightly melancholy, and evocative.

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