Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo is a big, slow story, and I admit to feeling irritated by the pace for the first third of the book. I felt as if I, and the story, was going nowhere, and taking ages to get there. Eventually, though, I figured it out. I had to slow down and take in the story at the pace the author had determined the story would be told.
Bridge of Sighs begins with Louis Charles Lynch, who has been known as Lucy since his first day of school, writing his memoirs. He starts with his childhood, and I swear, he tells the reader every single thing that ever happened to him.
Lucy’s bumbling, optimistic father is the complete opposite of his quick-witted, shrewd mother, and while he loves both of them, it is his father who Lucy wants to be like when he grows up. Lucy’s father was a milkman, who didn’t see the end of his career coming when a supermarket opened in the neighbourhood. He was a sucker, who bought a convenience store which had formerly only made the owner money because of illegal gambling. Lucy’s mother recognised her husband for a fool, but eventually helped him to manage the business well enough for the family to eke out a living.
As a child, Lucy idolised another boy, Bobby. Bobby remains a central character throughout the whole story even though he and Lucy haven’t seen each other in forty years. Bobby lives in Venice, and when the story starts, Lucy and his wife Sarah are planning a trip to Venice to visit Bobby, who is now a painter. Lucy has mixed feelings about going to Venice, as he has never wanted to leave Thomastown.
Lucy’s whole world has always been with his parents, his uncle, his community, working in his family’s convenience store. When they met as teenagers, Sarah joined Lucy’s and his family’s world too, rather than him becoming part of hers, or even them creating a new friendship group together. Lucy went away to University, but even then, came home every weekend to be with his family in the store and eventually left University when his father became ill.
In the present, Lucy is in his 60’s, and has been happily married to Sarah for forty years. He is content with their life in Thomastown and sees no reason to leave. Along with their son and daughter-in-law, Lucy and Sarah continue to manage the family’s convenience stores.
There are some big issues in the story, including racism, poverty and domestic violence. There are good people and bad people in Lucy’s community, and people who are a little bit of both. The story is told over sixty years and there are plenty of things to think about during the reading of this story.
Some sections of the story felt repetitive, just like life, really. But that doesn’t mean I want to read the same things over and over. I got sick of Lucy’s neediness when it came to Bobby and I don’t think his character grew much, essentially he was the same as an adult as he was as a child. I also felt irritated by Lucy’s obsessive need to tell the reader every detail of every single thing that ever happened, if he considered the event to be meaningful. As it happens, it turns out that Lucy left some pretty big things out of his memoir.
While I enjoyed reading Bridge of Sighs, I’m not sure if I would read another book by this author anytime soon, simply because this story took me so long to get through. At the moment, I’m too busy to slow down enough to enjoy another similarly-paced story, so more books from this author may have to wait until I’m on holidays, or have learned more patience.