Richard Russo did a fabulous job with Bridge of Sighs, melding a compelling story with deeper conclusions about the world and our place in it. He creates distinctive characters anchored in a strong sense of place — the town is so well drawn, it almost becomes a character in its own right. As we step back in time through Lucy’s memories, we see life how he saw it, and didn’t see it.
Russo’s good-hearted narrator tells a story with enough darkness that as a reader, I could sympathize with his mother when he failed to connect the dots. We bring enough knowledge of how the world works to the table that we see what the child did not. Russo uses that, referring to some events only obliquely. The restraint he shows in not hitting us over the head in those cases is a hallmark of the novel as it unfolds.
The first shift from first-person narrative to third person is a little unexpected, but once that transition is made, the future transitions are seamless. As we see the same events in people from different places, we pick up on things the narrator did not notice, we see things he didn’t experience in the lives of his friends. That setup enhances the power of the key scene where we discover not all is what it appears. The revelation is flawless — both unexpected and well prepared so that once it takes place, I had to wonder how I hadn’t seen it coming.
The Bridge of Sighs taps into a world full of darkness, yet finds hope at the end as some characters choose to change their path in life. Others insist on following their current path, unable to steer out of the rut. Russo’s storytelling is outstanding and his novel well worth a second, and even a third read.