Posted by: istop4books | July 27, 2009

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Bridge of Sighs Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book was the July book club read, which I volunteered to monitor. Big mistake. We had agreed to not read anything longer than 400 pages, so that if someone didn’t particularly like the book, the writing style, the genre, they’d be able to get through it quickly. This book was LONG. and repetitive, overindulgent, pompous and badly in need of a heavy handed editor. I get the feeling that I will walk into book club next Tuesday, and of the 12 women there only 2 or 3 of us will have finished this book.

And I got it. I know where Russo is coming from, and he made some very impressive points in the book. His characters were excellent, his descriptions detailed – it’s just that they were TMI – too much unimportant information. When Nan slides into a booth with Bobby, Russo describes the guy in the kitchen flipping burgers who slides into the booth next to them, and Nan’s reaction to him. That’s fine – but he took a page and a half to describe the short order cook/loser kinda guy.

bridge-of-sighs-in-veniceI LOVE good, long books. The thoughtful, the thoughtless and the dense ones. But this was a bridge to nowhere at times. Bobby’s banishment was spoken about in one of the first chapters and the reason was clear within the first 100 pages – only to be spelled out in the last 50 pages or so. Russo wrote chapter after chapter about one set of characters, dropped them, only to pick them up 200 pages later in another chapter. Huh? Who?

“This is the actual Bridge of Sighs in Venice (Ponte dei Sospiri).  It spans the narrow Rio Di Palazzo and connect Doge Palace in Saint Mark’s Square to prison cells on the other side.  This bridge was the last view a prisoner would have before being  thrown into the cells, and as they crossed the bridge they would sigh, knowing that without money or power all hope was lost.   Built in the early 1600s.  Russo says, “I will cross this Bridge of Sighs even though I now realize Sarah won’t be there to greet me. On the other side of the bridge is profound darkness, but I’m not afraid.  Whatever lies beyond the Bridge of Sighs will be my new life. “

In any case – the parent/child relationship, the ties that bind, the decisions that alter our lives forever, pride, prejudice, are all explored. Living in a small town, following in your parents’ footsteps – taking in the good the bad and the ugly are all well captured.

Of note though: Not one woman is a strong character. They are all flawed, either indecisive, jumping into bed, unfaithful or some mix of the above. The blacks all spoke with accents – there was not an educated black character in the book, and the women were all victims. Maybe I should rate this one a 2?

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  1. Thank you very much for the photo of The Bridge. I’ve been meaning to google it–along with driving my homemade space shuttle to Pluto.

    I share some of your criticism of Bridge of Sigs; the book felt longer and more drawn out than it needed to be, and I hope grad students and profs out there are looking for sentences and entire scenes that could, in their minds, be scrapped.

    However, I’m not as sure as you are what portion of the abundant detail is unnecessary. In your example of the burger flipper, I see one more mini-dimension of the town’s life, one which adds some meaning–the warmth of the group, across generations, in the midst of a blizzard and personal crises. Even so, I agree that the urgency of that scene and others is debatable, and I’d love to read such a debate.

    Also, it’s good to see somebody adding some specific support for an opinion. I find far too little of that out there.

    I hope you and some of your visitors will look in on my review of Bridge of Sighs, July 22, 2009 at, and at least a couple of other posts on writing or similar subjects–July 28, July 31, August 10, August 11.

  2. Thanks Banjo52 for your comment.

    I guess when I read a book, inevitably I start the comparisons with other similar writers that I have enjoyed or disliked along the way. The two writers who came to mind while reading this book were Wendell Berry (Jayber Crow or The Memory of Old Jack) and Wallace Stegner (Angle of Repose, Crossing to Safety, etc. ) and as I read through the book I continually found it didn’t measure up to these two favorite authors of mine. I kept feeling like I would rather be reading one of their books instead of Bridge of Sighs.

    As far as the women in the novel are concerned, when we got together to discuss the book, 4 out of 12 of us had read it – not bad for this particular group of busy women. In general, the female characters were found to be a weak link in the book. The mothers (Noonan’s and Lucy’s) – one was a total victim, one overbearing. Sarah perhaps was the redeeming woman in the novel, but even her interest in Noonan years and years after last seeing him was a bit of a stretch.

    And here’s my deal with long books. They’d better be darn good to take up that much of my attention span and sleep time, because most of my reading time is stolen blatantly from sleep hours. I read to learn, to be entertained, to be moved – for lots of reasons. In this age when so many other things are competing for our time, kids, spouses, business, housework, TV, internet, blogs…. a book absolutely unequivocably has to merit my time. IMHO, this one fell short.

  3. FYI: I’ve just added two posts about Bridge of Sighs, August 30, 2009 about Russo’s optimism and a second one today, Aug. 31 about the female characters in the book. I hope I’ve done more than repeating what everyone else has said, so have a look if you can, and if not, thanks for your earlier visit.

  4. Osford has his own Bridge of Sighs aswell 🙂

  5. Did I get this by mistake? In any case, I enjoyed revisiting the book and its issues.

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