Richard Russo published a pretty good first novel in 1986, pretty much wrote it again in 1988, finally perfecting that particular story with 1993′s excellent Nobody’s Fool, still my favorite of his books. These are all stories of youngish men reconnecting with fathers who had been absent, alcoholic, unemployed, and worse, set in small town, upstate New York. He branched out a little more after that, but he has that part of the world pegged about as well as Faulkner had Yoknapatawpha County. He won his Pulitzer for Empire Falls, which is set in the same milieu.
Which is why Russo can write so engaging a long novel about so conventional a fellow as big, soft Louis Lynch, who’s not as dumb as he looks (tho the word doofus keeps showing up in regard to him), who expects the best of everyone, who has barely traveled beyond his town’s borders, who is perfectly content to run a store in a parochial hamlet.
Russo does characters very well, and tho Louis has few friends, he lives in a web of relationships with people more interesting than himself. His wife and mother, for instance, tend toward cynicism, and do not expect the best of everyone. His friend Bobby is in many ways the anti-Louis, impulsive, barely able to keep his violent nature in check, and a little in love with Louis’s wife, who’s a little in love with Bobby, too.
Everyone has secrets, but in a small town, they can be hard to keep. Bridge of Sighs has some interesting things to say about this, and about generational similarities, and comfort zones. It’s Russo’s characters tho, and sense of place that keep me looking forward to his next book.