Daniel M. MurtaughMarch 24, 2008 - 8:41am0 comments
Bridge of Sighs
Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95, 528 pp.
For over twenty years, in half a dozen novels, Richard Russo has followed the examples of William Faulkner and William Kennedy in choosing a single geography for his fiction. He returns to one remembered place again and again, mining it for general insights into the human condition. His geography is a little less focused, a little more regional than Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County or Kennedy’s Albany. Russo’s territory is a Northeastern American town that grew up around a factory and now finds itself on life-support decades after the factory closed. It might be in upstate New York or in New England. It always has a fictional name, but those familiar with the region will feel that they know its real-life original.
Lewiston, New York, the setting of Bridge of Sighs, prospered as long as the local river ran red or blue or green with the discharges of the local tannery—a liquid rainbow that would eventually prove carcinogenic. Now the factory is dead, the river runs relatively clear, and those with any gumption have left town. The novel’s protagonist is a familiar Russo figure: the one who stayed behind, and whose late-midlife questioning of his motives for doing so generates the narrative. Roughly half the novel’s twenty-four chapters are the text of a memoir by Louis Charles Lynch, who picked up the unfortunate nickname “Lucy” when his kindergarten teacher included his middle initial in her first roll call. Now...