In the past, author Richard Russo, the guest of honor at a book-signing tonight, has described himself as essentially a comic writer. Nonetheless, Bridge of Sighs, his newest offering, is "a deeply melancholy book," he concedes. "This is the first book of mine that's probably tipped over into, if not tragedy, then into a deep and abiding sadness."
According to Russo, the material dictated the offering's tone. Still, he acknowledges that he approached the project with tremendous seriousness, in part because he won the Pulitzer Prize for his previous novel, 2001's Empire Falls. "The Pulitzer, wonderful as it was, did make me very careful," he says. "I didn't want the Pulitzer to look like a fluke, or that the judges were deranged, by coming out with a crappy book."
Bridge's plot revolves around Lou C. Lynch, whose first name and middle initial combine to create the nickname Lucy, which dogs him from his first day of kindergarten into his sixties. As for the other major players, they include Sarah, his wife; Bobby, a boyhood friend turned famous painter who's living in Venice; and Thomaston, a fictional town whose long-gone tannery left behind a legacy of industrial pollution and economic decline. Against all evidence, Lou C. feels upbeat about the place but his positive outlook only amplifies the despair that hangs over so many sequences.
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For Russo, these passages echo his own formative years. "The town I grew up in was a mill town," he says, "and it was already on the downward slope." Yet the book concludes on a hopeful note, and Russo believes that "these characters deserved it. They earned it, and far be it from me to take it away from them."