Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Bridge of Sighs

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Bridge of Sighs

by Richard Russo

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2007, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2008, 688 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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  • Louis Menand in the New Yorker points out that Bridge of Sighs is structured like Joyce's Ulysses. Lucy Lynch is Leopold Bloom's counterpart, "canny and naïve in equal parts, a plodder and a dreamer." Sarah resembles Molly Bloom, "the clever and worldly wife" who outstrips her husband. Noonan is like Stephen Dedalus, "the angry boy who flies by the nets, going into exile and becoming an artist." Thomaston, then, is Russo's Dublin, as if he is elevating the blighted American small town as a subject worthy of highbrow literature.

  • Richard Russo grew up in Gloversville, a factory town in upstate New York whose tannery made gloves (of course) from the nineteenth century until the middle of the twentieth century when production moved overseas. Russo has made a distinguished literary career from his depictions of such towns, stemming from his personal experience. Though the struggles that each town faces are different—academic foibles in a college town in Pennsylvania in Straight Man, the inexorable decline of the family who owns the failing logging and textile mills in the Maine village of Empire Falls, the closing of the tannery and its continued pollution of the local river in Bridge of Sighs—Russo has said, "Really, what I am writing about in all of these is, class and work."

  • Russo's writing regimen is similarly rooted in the notion of home and place. In an extensive interview at identitytheory.com following the publication of The Whore's Child and Other Stories (2002) he explains, "I can write on the road, but I can't draft a novel on the road. I could revise a novel on the road. I can write screen work, essays, I can write introductions. Non-fiction is easy to write on the road, on rare occasions when I do that. I can do all those kinds of things but there is something different about drafting a novel that requires me to work at the same time each day. I need to work in the morning, every morning, 6 or 7 days a week. I need that kind of routine to slip back into. I need to pick up right where I left off. I hate to miss a day. I need reliable blocks of time."

More about Russo including excerpts and reviews from The Whore's Child, Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs at BookBrowse.

This article was originally published in November 2007, and has been updated for the September 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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