This long book reminds us of 'Empire Falls" , the 2001 Pulitzer Prize which portrayed so well small town America with its 3 generations of blue collar workers families, their conflicts, failures and times of happiness amongst their town's decline and destruction. As one remembers, the damage caused by industrial pollution was a cause of the town's economic ruin and here the same thing occurs: the Tannery's industrial pollution of the river causes un employment and cancer in many workers lives including the hero's father. A largely melancholy book, about the loss of hope and dreams of prosperity with a narrator,Lou. C Lynch a General Store shop keeper who is a weak and hapless man himself, a boen victim. Hehappens to tell his life's story as well as his wife's and his best friend's, a rough neighborhood kid later transformed into a famous painter living in Venice.
Now we see immediately the monotony and boredom of these small predictable lives , which could be unbearable to recount if it were not for two wondeful and unusual types : the wife Sarah who is mainly a failed artist but visited by uncommon intuiton or visions, and their teen age friend , Robert Noonan, an international painter leading a grand cosmopolitan life ( a sort of Francis Bacon ) totally removed from poor old Tomaston. Without the space and breath provided by these unexpected lives, the novel would collapse basically because its hero is so un- inspiring ; it is hard to keep up with a man who constantly brags about his average and totally uneventful life , his obscure and dreadfully provincial youth and how much he loves it and does not want it to ever change.. .Lou is slow witted, cowardly , the prey of other kids who laugh at him and his parents over protect him because of his spells ( a cerebral crisis never properly diagnosed) ; one wonders at Russo's choice of such an unlikely hero but it appears a amazingly good choice to evoke an economically dying small town through the lyricism and undying love of its moving hero, Lou . It is true that the disapearance of a whole way of life in rural America strikes a powerful note in many important writers such as John Updike , Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, or even Cormac Mc Carthy to cite a few , and that it is equally appealing to many readers who know and love small towns. It is indeed a part of the American heritage without a doubt, and this nostalgiais the sure sign of the remembrance of our fathers and ancestors in the collective unconscious.This theme is thus what the book ultimately reveals.
It is a potent novel , a curiously re- assuring book to read because Russo has the great talent to make his characters alive and significant in a sort of psychological intimacy, provided by an abundance of small rather idiotic details, quirky reactions, amusing dialogues and everyday horrors or gossip that include easily the fascinated reader. You cannot put the book down and that is a sign of a novel's power and achievement as a work of art.
Everyone of our lives bears its own " Bridge of Sighs" inside our soul even if we do not live in Venice or have never visited there : because the un- revealed secrets of human life weighs on us and we find its evokation irresistible. It is very difficult to allude to buried dreams and to describe actual works of art ( like the paintings of Noonan in the book ) and not be ridiculous or sink into emotional drama , but Richard Russo does it beautifully and his book is remarkable.
Book reviews Critiques littéraires Books recently published in english and french.
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- Mila Forani on Books
- Brussels, Belgium
- Née à Bruxelles, mère résistante et sculpteur, père homme d’affaires, études à l ’Université libre de Bruxelles ( Philosophie et Lettres ; arts primitifs), puis à Harvard ( anthropologie), Rutgers New Brunswick, Duke University .N.C. USA ( littérature comparée, Masters et Doctorat.) Thèse publiée (Ph.D) sur Valéry et Mallarmé. Enseignement universitaire aux USA, en France (Aix en Provence) et au Liban (comme coopérant) ,littérature et philosophie , en français ou anglais. Mariée en premières noces à un avocat américain G.Robert Wills et puis à un peintre et publiciste Français, Jean- Pierre Rhein (décédé). La plupart des publications sous le nom de Wills.Vit à Bruxelles.