Bridge of Sighs: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries)

By Richard Russo
Binding:Paperback
Publisher:Vintage, (8/12/2008)
Language:English



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4.33 out of 5 (3 Clubie's ratings)


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Louis Charles Lynch (also known as Lucy) is sixty years old and has lived in Thomaston, New York, his entire life. He and Sarah, his wife of forty years, are about to embark on a vacation to Italy. Lucy's oldest friend, once a rival for his wife's affection, leads a life in Venice far removed from Thomaston. Perhaps for this reason Lucy is writing the story of his town, his family, and his own life that makes up this rich and mesmerizing novel, interspersed with that of the native son who left so long ago and has never looked back.

Bridge of Sighs, from the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls, is a moving novel about small-town America that expands Russo's widely heralded achievement in ways both familiar and astonishing.
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I knew I'd love this book even before I read it. And, of course, it didn't let me down. What an amazingly well-written story that reflects back on youth, young love, lasting love and impossible love. Reassured me that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be!

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"Bridge of Sighs: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries)"
By Richard Russo

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.33 out of 5 (3 Clubie's ratings)


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 
1. Bridge of Sighs alternates two narratives: Lucy's first-person memoir and the story of Robert Noonan. What are the advantages of this structure? How does it affect the way plot unfolds? Does it influence your impressions of the main characters? 

2. How does Lucy's description of Thomaston create an immediate sense of time and place? What details did you find particularly evocative? What does Lucy's tone, as well as the way he presents various facts about Thomaston and its history, reveal about his perceptiveness and his intelligence? 

3. Lucy says, "I've always known that there's more going on inside me than finds its way into the world, but this is probably true of everyone. Who doesn't regret that he isn't more fully understood?".To what extent does this feeling lie at the heart of his decision to write his book? Does it play a central role in memoir-writing in general? What else does Lucy hope to accomplish by recalling his past? At the beginning, does he see the dangers, as well as the benefits, of examining his life and the people and events that shaped him? 

4. The horrific prank the neighborhood boys play on Lucy triggers the first of many "spells" he will have throughout his life. What is the significance of his spells? What do they reveal about the emotional attachments, anxieties, and doubts that define him both as a child and as an adult? 

5. Lucy makes many references to the pursuit of the American Dream and its implications within his own family and in society in general. In what ways did American attitudes in the postwar years embody both the best parts of our national character and its darker undercurrents? What incidents in the novel illuminate the uneasiness and enmity that results from the class, racial, and economic divisions in Thomaston? Do Lucy's beliefs, judgments, and achievements (as a businessman and as a happily married husband and father) color his reconstruction of these events? 

6. Unlike Lucy's story, Noonan's story is told in the third person. Is the change of voice a literary device, a way of adding variety to the novel, or does it serve another purpose? In what ways does it help to convey the basic difference between Lucy and Noonan and the way they see themselves and their place in the world? Compare the tone and language Russo uses in creating Lucy's voice with the style he uses in his portraits of Noonan. What aspects of Noonan's character and personality come to life in his conversations with his art dealer and his mistress; his reactions to Lucy's missives and to Mr. Berg's class in high school; and, ultimately, his thoughts and behavior on arriving in New York. 

7. Lucy and Bobby attempt to explain why their lives—and Sarah's—have turned out they way they have. Do you agree with Lucy that "To see a life back to front, as everyone begins to do in middle age, is to strip it of its mystery and wrap it in inevitability, drama's enemy"? To what extent does Bobby share this view? Why does Bobby see himself as being in control of his life in a way that neither Sarah nor Lucy is? Is this a result of his background and the circumstances that forced him to prepare himself for a second act? From the evidence in the book, is it accurate to describe Lucy as a passive participant in life, and Bobby as a man who actively responds to events, rather than becoming a pawn—or a victim—of things beyond his control? 

8. Tessa is the practical, steady member of the Lynch family. In what ways does her behavior reflect her own choices, needs, and desires, and in what ways are these determined by the time and place in which she lives? What qualities make her stand out, not only in Lucy's eyes, but also within the community as a whole? 

9. Does Lucy's identification with his father distort his image of his mother and his understanding of her strengths and her weaknesses? Beyond her immediate anger, what drives her to tell Lucy, "Inever wanted you to not to love your father. . . . I wanted you to love me. . . . Did it ever occur to you, even once during all those years, that you might have taken my side? That I might have needed a friend?"? Is this a valid criticism, or is Tessa herself responsible, either inadvertently or intentionally, for the differences between Lucy's relationships with each parent? 

10. Sarah comes from an unconventional family, especially in the context of Thomaston. Is her ability to deal with the eccentricities of her parents and the summer/winter living arrangements they established unusual? In what ways does she not only adapt to but also benefit from the very things that set her apart? Is her attraction to the Lynches in part a reaction to her dysfunctional family? 

11. Are Mr. Berg's obsessions—with perpetuating his image as a rebel, with the "great" book he is writing, and with his failed marriage—sympathetically drawn? What is the significance of the fact that he is Jewish? What biases, both good and bad, do the people of Thomaston (including Lucy) have about Jews and what impact does this have on Berg and his reputation within the community?

12. What role does her mother play in Sarah's sense of self? What are the implications of her views on marriage? Do they influence Sarah's feelings about her own marriage and that of her in-laws? Why is Sarah drawn back to the home she shared with her mother when she faces a crisis in her relationship with Lucy? What does she learn by revisiting the past? 

13. What traits do Tessa and Sarah share? In what ways do their marriages mirror one another? Do you think either—or both—foolishly gave up their own dreams and desires, sacrificing a life of adventure and sexual passion for the love and security of a "good" man? Behind their apparent contentment, are there indications that they regret the choices they made? 

14. The Bridge of Sighs in Venice connects the Doge Palace to an adjacent prison, and, as Lucy relates, "Crossing this bridge, the convicts—at least the ones without money or influence—came to understand that all hope was lost". How does the historical function of the bridge, as well as the myths surrounding it, relate to characters' lives? Why has Russo chosen it as the title of the novel? 

15. Does the ending bring the various threads of the novel to a satisfactory conclusion? What would have happened if Lucy, Sarah, and Noonan had met again after so many years? In what ways are their memories and imaginings a more powerful—and truer—version of reality? 

16. In an interview Russo said, "The future and the past are repeatedly getting mixed up in people's minds. They think that which is gone is going to come back" (Powells.com). Which charactersBridge of Sighs are particularly prone to getting the past and the future mixed up? Do any of the characters fully escape this way of thinking? 

17. Richard Russo has written about small towns throughout his career. What are some similarities between Bridge of Sighs and previous novels like Empire Falls and Nobody's Fool? In what ways does Bridge of Sighs enhance and expand the portrait of America that is so central to Russo's writing? 


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Amazon.com Review
Amazon Significant Seven, November 2007: Richard Russo's first book since the Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire FallsBridge of Sighs is a typically stunning portrait of three small town families struggling--like the town itself--to strike a balance between obsessively embracing their own history or shunning it entirely, with devastating consequences along both paths. Bridge of Sighs is pure Russo: funny, heartbreaking, and ringing completely true. --Jon Foro 


--This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Publishers Weekly
SignatureReviewed by Jeffrey FrankRichard Russo's portraits of smalltown life may be read not only as fine novels but as invaluable guides to the economic decline of the American Northeast. Russo was reared in Gloversville, N.Y. (which got its name from the gloves no longer manufactured there), and a lot of mid–20th-century Gloversville can be found in his earlier fiction (MohawkThe Risk Pool). It reappears in Bridge of Sighs, Russo's splendid chronicle of life in the hollowed-out town of Thomaston, N.Y., where a tannery's runoff is slowly spreading carcinogenic ruin.At the novel's center is Lou C. Lynch (his middle initial wins him the unfortunate, lasting nickname Lucy), but the narrative, which covers more than a half-century, also unfolds through the eyes of Lou's somewhat distant and tormented friend, Bobby Marconi, as well as Sarah Berg, a gifted artist who Lou marries and who loves Bobby, too. The lives of the Lynches, the Bergs and the Marconis intersect in various ways, few of them happy; each family has its share of woe. Lou's father, a genial milkman, is bound for obsolescence and leads his wife into a life of shopkeeping; Bobby's family is being damaged by an abusive father. Sarah moves between two parents: a schoolteacher father with grandiose literary dreams and a scandal in his past and a mother who lives in Long Island and leads a life that is far from exemplary. Russo weaves all of this together with great sureness, expertly planting clues—and explosives, too—knowing just when and how they will be discovered or detonate at the proper time. Incidents from youth—a savage beating, a misunderstood homosexual advance, a loveless seduction—have repercussions that last far into adulthood. Thomaston itself becomes a sort of extended family, whose unhappy members include the owners of the tannery who eventually face ruin.Bridge of Sighs is a melancholy book; the title refers to a painting that Bobby is making (he becomes a celebrated artist) and the Venetian landmark, but also to the sadness that pervades even the most contented lives. Lou, writing about himself and his dying, blue-collar town, thinks that the loss of a place isn't really so different from the loss of a person. Both disappear without permission, leaving the self diminished, in need of testimony and evidence. If there are false notes, they come with Russo's portrayal of African-Americans, who too often speak like stock characters: (Doan be given me that hairy eyeball like you doan believe, 'cause I know better, says one). But Russo has a deep and real understanding of stifled ambitions and the secrets people keep, sometimes forever. Bridge of Sighs, on every page, is largehearted, vividly populated and filled with life from America's recent, still vanishing past.Jeffrey Frank's books include The Columnist and Bad Publicity. His novel, Trudy Hopedale, was published in July by Simon & Schuster. 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From The Washington Post
Reviewed by Ron Charles

Richard Russo was already the patron saint of small-town fiction, but with his new novel, Bridge of Sighs -- his first since the Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls -- he's produced his most American story. Once again he places us in a finely drawn community that's unable to adjust to economic changes, and with insight and sensitivity he describes ordinary people struggling to get by. But more than ever before, Russo ties this novel to the oldest preoccupations of our national consciousness by focusing on the nature of optimism and the limits of self-invention. This, he writes, is "the narrative of our family, its small, significant journey. Is this not an American tale?" Indeed, no other modern author has defied the "small" in small town with such passion. On the first page of Bridge of Sighs, Russo dismisses any concern about provincialism: "Some people, upon learning how we've lived our lives, are unable to conceal their chagrin on our behalf, that our lives should be so limited, as if experience so geographically circumscribed could be neither rich nor satisfying."

Here is a story to knock those condescending city slickers on their backsides, a story true to the pace and tenor of town life but rife with all the cares and crises of people everywhere. It takes place over many decades in Thomaston, N.Y., where the tannery slowly laid off and poisoned residents until most of them died or moved away. But not all-around nice guy "Lucy" Lynch, who grew up here, never left and is now nearing retirement. He acquired that embarrassingly feminine nickname in kindergarten when the teacher called for "Lou C. Lynch." All this and much more is explained in a history he's writing of the town and his life, a project inspired by an upcoming trip to Italy, where he hopes to see an old friend. He tells his wife that it should take 50 pages, "a hundred, tops," but since we've got 500 to go, we know that's misleading. Lucy's other misdirections are harder to spot, although he admits early on that "it is tempting to lie [about] everything." Why such a blessed and well-liked man should feel tempted to lie about anything is one of the many mysteries that slowly unfold.

Bridge of Sighs crosses through many subjects and themes -- it's Russo's most intricate, multifaceted novel -- but the story revolves around Lucy's relationship with his father, the man he adored and resembles in so many ways that it troubles him. Big Lou was a slightly goofy, sentimental man who grew up during the Depression but emerged convinced "that we were living a story whose ending couldn't be anything but happy." There's a touch of Willie Loman here, except in this version, against all odds, he does okay. A milkman at the dawn of the supermarket era, Big Lou refuses to acknowledge the imminent demise of his career. Lucy's mother, on the other hand, is a sharp, realistic woman, who finds her husband's unbridled optimism exasperating. She makes a point of contradicting his cheery predictions, but it makes no difference to Big Lou, who "maintained, if you kept your nose clean, good things were eventually bound to happen to you." Lucy spends much of the novel negotiating these opposing points of view, aware that he always took his father's side against his mother's deflating realism. "I still remember how much this upset me," Lucy writes. "There wasn't supposed to be any limit to the benefits of hard work and honesty, and her saying there were limits implied that she didn't believe in America, or, worse, in us." Though decades have passed, Lucy remains torn between the two people who loved him, still trying to work out what kind of man he has become. This is not a particularly dramatic story -- a racially charged high-school beating provides the only real fireworks -- but Russo's sensitivity to the currents of friendship and family life, the conflicts, anxieties and irritations that mingle with affection and loyalty, make Bridge of Sighs a continual flow of little revelations.

The most interesting relationship in the novel is Lucy's unlikely friendship with Bobby Marconi, a tough kid who despises his abusive father as much as Lucy adores his own. He's confident and athletic, the mirror opposite of Lucy. Their friendship is badly one-sided, but Lucy is too infatuated to notice, and Bobby is just kind enough to resist telling this nerdy kid to get lost. Even after Bobby and some other ruffians stuff him in a trunk and traumatize him for the rest of his life, Lucy remains determined to believe that his friend wasn't involved.

Russo narrates significant sections of the novel in the third person, filling in details about Bobby's disturbing family life and "Lucy's terrible neediness." In addition, we get several chapters narrated by the adult Bobby, now 60, a famous artist living in Italy. The cumulative effect is a story of constantly evolving complexity and depth, a vast meditation on adolescence and the way it's remembered and misremembered to serve our needs.

It's peevish to complain about anything in such a lovely, deep-hearted novel, but I couldn't help letting out a few sighs of my own as the plot continued to branch out. There's simply too much here and too much redundancy. Lucy suggests that "it's all important," but as much as I enjoyed the book, I'm not convinced. Two of these characters are obsessed with writing very long stories, and Russo seems to have picked up the same compulsion. When he gets caught up in the thrills of a high-school romance -- Which boy will she choose? -- the Bridge of Sighs seems to be crossing over "Dawson's Creek." A late section involving Lucy's wife and an adorable little black child sounds extraneous and precious. And there's a tendency toward portentous profundity: "Odd, how our view of human destiny changes over the course of a lifetime. In youth we believe what the young believe, that life is all choice. We stand before a hundred doors, choose to enter one, where we're faced with a hundred more and then choose again. We choose not just what we'll do, but who we'll be," etc., etc. At such times, the plot, which is never particularly energetic, stalls, and the characters seem overwhelmed, rather than sustained, by the author's wisdom. Listed like this, these complaints sound more damning than I mean them to. Actually, in the course of this enormous and enormously moving novel, I was continually seduced by Russo's insight and gentle humor, his ability to discern the ways we love and frustrate each other. Toward the end, before a trip to Boston, Lucy writes, "We will leave this small, good world behind us with the comfort of knowing it'll be here when we return." One sets down Russo's work with the same comforting reassurance.

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Booklist
*Starred Review* Here is the novel Russo was born to write. Coursing with humor and humanity, the sixth novel by the bard of Main Street U.S.A. gives full expression to the themes that have always been at the heart of his work: the all-important bond between fathers and sons, the economic desperation of small-town businesses, and the lifelong feuds and friendships that are a hallmark of small-town life. Following a trio of best friends who grew up in upstate Thomaston, New York, over 50 years, the novel captures some of the essential mysteries of life, including the unanticipated moments of childhood that will forever define one's adulthood. Louis Charles ("Lucy") Lynch has spent his entire life in Thomaston, married for 40 years to his wife, Sarah, and finally living in the rich section of town, thanks to the success of his father's convenience stores. Long planning a trip to Venice, he tries in vain to communicate with the couple's best friend, Bobby Marconi, now a world-famous painter living in Venice. Meanwhile, the irascible ex-pat, now approaching 60 and suffering from night terrors, is still chasing women, engaging in fistfights, and struggling to complete his latest painting. Russo slowly and lovingly pieces together rich, multilayered portraits not only of the principals but also of their families, and, by extension, their quintessentially American town. It is a seamless interweaving of childhood memories (sometimes told from three points of view), tragic incidents (the town river, once the lifeblood of local industry, has become a toxic stew that is poisoning residents), and unforgettable dialogue that is so natural, funny, and touching that it may, perhaps, be the best of Russo's many gifts. Wilkinson, Joanne --This text refers to the Hardcoveredition. 

Review
"Russo's attention to the currents of friendship and family life, the conflicts, anxieties and irritations that mingle with affection and loyalty, make Bridge of Sighs a continual flow of little revelations . . . a story of constantly evolving complexity and depth . . . It's Russo's most intricate, multifaceted novel . . . enormous and enormously moving." --Ron Charles, The Washington Post Book World

"A great American story . . . Beautiful, funny, profound and, in the end, quietly devastating. It's a book built to endure." --Kyle Smith, People (4 stars)

"Russo makes sexual ambiguity feel homey and familiar, and he does it here with consequences more emotionally weighty than ever before. His novels have that pleasurable roominess of books rich in story and quick in prose style, but in Bridge of Sighs, he crosses from bittersweet comedy to the realm of tragedy." --Vince Passaro, O Magazine

"His most ambitious and best work." --Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

"Engrossing . . . Russo writes about [his] characters--their fistfights, bar nights, secret kisses, self-delusions--with such warmth that, whether it turns out to be a hellhole or heaven on earth, you're grateful to be back on his turf." --Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly

"A novel of great warmth, charm and intimacy . . . richly evocative and beautifully wrought." --Janet Maslin, New York Times

"[A] magnificent, bighearted new novel [and] an astounding achievement . . . From its lovely beginning to its exquisite, perfect end, Russo has written a masterpiece." --Mameve Medwed, Boston Sunday Globe

"A winning story of the strange ways that parents and children, lovers and friends connect and thrive." --Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., Library Journal

"Nobody now writing rivals Russo at untangling the knots of family connection, love and sexuality, ambition and compromise, fidelity and... --This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition. 

Review
"A magnificent, bighearted new novel [and] an astounding achievement. . . . A masterpiece." 
The Boston Globe

"A story of constantly evolving complexity and depth. . . . [Bridge of Sighs is] Russo's most intricate, multifaceted novel . . . enormous and enormously moving."
The Washington Post Book World

"A novel of great warmth, charm and intimacy . . . richly evocative and beautifully wrought."
The New York Times

"[Russo's] most ambitious and best work."
USA Today 

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Berman Court

First, the facts.

My name is Louis Charles Lynch. I am sixty years old, and for nearly forty of those years I’ve been a devoted if not terribly exciting husband to the same lovely woman, as well as a doting father to Owen, our son, who is now himself a grown, married man. He and his wife are childless and likely, alas, to so remain. Earlier in my marriage it appeared as if we’d be blessed with a daughter, but a car accident when my wife was in her fourth month caused her to miscarry. That was a long time ago, but Sarah still thinks about the child and so do I.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable about my life is that I’ve lived all of it in the same small town in upstate New York, a thing unheard of in this day and age. My wife’s parents moved here when she was a little girl, so she has few memories before Thomaston, and her situation isn’t much different from my own. Some people, upon learning how we’ve lived our lives, are unable to conceal their chagrin on our behalf, that our lives should be so limited, as if experience so geographically circumscribed could be neither rich nor satisfying. When I assure them that it has been both, their smiles suggest we’ve been blessed with self-deception by way of compensation for all we’ve missed. I remind such people that until fairly recently the vast majority of humans have been circumscribed in precisely this manner and that lives can also be constrained by a great many other things: want, illness, ignorance, loneliness and lack of faith, to name just a few. But it’s probably true my wife would have traveled more if she’d married someone else, and my unwillingness to become the vagabond is just one of the ways I’ve been, as I said, an unexciting if loyal and unwavering companion. She’s heard all of my arguments, philosophical and other, for staying put; in her mind they all amount to little more than my natural inclination, inertia rationalized. She may be right. That said, I don’t think Sarah has been unhappy in our marriage. She loves me and our son and, I think, our life. She assured me of this not long ago when it appeared she might lose her own and, sick with worry, I asked if she’d regretted the good simple life we’ve made together.

Though our pace, never breakneck, has slowed recently, I like to think that the real reason we’ve not seen more of the world is that Thomaston itself has always been both luxuriant and demanding. In addition to the corner store we inherited from my parents, we now own and operate two other convenience stores. My son wryly refers to these as “the Lynch Empire,” and while the demands of running them are not overwhelming, they are relentless and time-consuming. Each is like a pet that refuses to be housebroken and resents being left alone. In addition to these demands on my time, I also serve on a great many committees, so many, in fact, that late in life I’ve acquired a nickname, Mr. Mayor—a tribute to my civic-mindedness that contains, I’m well aware, an element of gentle derision. Sarah believes that people take advantage of my good nature, my willingness to listen carefully to everyone, even after it’s become clear they have nothing to say. She worries that I often return home late in the evening and then not in the best of humors, a natural result of the fact that the civic pie we divide grows smaller each year, even as our community’s needs continue dutifully to grow. Every year the arguments over how we spend our diminished and diminishing assets become less civil, less respectful, and my wife believes it’s high time for younger men to shoulder their fair share of the responsibility, not to mention the attendant abuse. In principle I heartily agree, though in practice I no sooner resign from one committee than I’m persuaded to join another. And Sarah’s no one to talk, serving as she has, until her recent illness, on far too many boards and development committees.

Be all that as it may, the well-established rhythms of our adult lives will soon be interrupted most violently, for despite my inclination to stay put, we are soon to travel, my wife and I. I have but one month to prepare for this momentous change and mentally adjust to the loss of my precious routines—my rounds, I call them—that take me into every part of town on an almost daily basis. Too little time, I maintain, for a man so set in his ways, but I have agreed to all of it. I’ve had my passport photo taken, filled out my application at the post office and mailed all the necessary documents to the State Department, all under the watchful eye of my wife and son, who seem to believe that my lifelong aversion to travel might actually cause me to sabotage our plans. Owen in particular sustains this unkind view of his father, as if I’d deny his mother anything, after all she’s been through. “Watch him, Ma,” he advises, narrowing his eyes at me in what I hope is mock suspicion. “You know how he is.”

Italy. We will go to Italy. Rome, then Florence, and finally Venice.

No sooner did I agree than we were marooned in a sea of guidebooks that my wife now studies like a madwoman. “Aqua alta,” she said last night after she’d finally turned off the light, her voice near and intimate in the dark. She found my hand and gave it a squeeze under the covers. “In Venice there’s something called aqua alta. High water.”

“How high?” I said.

“The calles flood.”

“What’s a calle?”

“If you’d do some reading, you’d know that streets in Italy are called calles.”

“How many of us need to know that?” I asked her. “You’re going to be there, right? I’m not going alone, am I?”

“When the aqua alta is bad, all of St. Mark’s is underwater.”

“The whole church?” I said. “How tall is it?”

She sighed loudly. “St. Mark’s isn’t a church. It’s a plaza. The plaza of San Marco. Do you need me to explain what a plaza is?”

Actually, I’d known that calles were streets and hadn’t really needed an explanation of aqua alta either. But my militant ignorance on the subject of all things Italian has quickly become a game between us, one we both enjoy.

“We may need boots,” my wife ventured.

“We have boots.”

“Rubber boots. Aqua alta boots. They sound a siren.”

“If you don’t have the right boots, they sound a siren?”

She gave me a swift kick under the covers. “To warn you. That the high water’s coming. So you’ll wear your boots.”

“Who lives like this?”

“Venetians.”

“Maybe I’ll just sit in the car and wait for the water to recede.”

Another kick. “No cars.”

“Right. No cars.”

“Lou?”

“No cars,” I repeated. “Got it. Calles where the streets should be. No cars in the calles, though, not one.”

“We haven’t heard back from Bobby.”

Our old friend. Our third musketeer from senior year of high school. Long, long gone from us. She didn’t have to tell me we hadn’t heard back. “Maybe he’s moved. Maybe he doesn’t live in Venice anymore.”

“Maybe he’d rather not see us.”

“Why? Why would he not want to see us?”

I could feel my wife shrug in the dark, and feel our sense of play running aground. “How’s your story coming?”

“Good,” I told her. “I’ve been born already. A chronological approach is best, don’t you think?”

“I thought you were writing a history of Thomaston,” she said.

“Thomaston’s in it, but so am I.”

“How about me?” she said, taking my hand again.

“Not yet. I’m still just a baby. You’re still downstate. Out of sight, out of mind.”

“You could lie. You could say I lived next door. That way we’d always be together.” Playful again, now.

“I’ll think about it,” I said. “But the people who actually lived next door are the problem. I’d have to evict them.”

“I wouldn’t want you to do that.”

“It is tempting to lie, though,” I admitted.

“About what?” She yawned, and I knew she’d be asleep and snoring peacefully in another minute or two.

“Everything.”

“Lou?”

“What.”

“Promise me you won’t let it become an obsession.”

It’s true. I’m prone to obsession. “It won’t be,” I promised her.

But I’m not the only reason my wife is on guard against obsession. Her father, who taught English at the high school, spent his summers writing a novel that by the end had swollen to more than a thousand single-spaced pages and still with no end in sight. I myself am drawn to shorter narratives. Of late, obituaries. It troubles my wife that I read them with my morning coffee, going directly to that section of the newspaper, but turning sixty does that, does it not? Death isn’t an obsession, just a reality. Last month I read of the death—in yet another car accident—of a man whose life had been intertwined with mine since we were boys. I slipped it into the envelope that contained my wife’s letter, the one that announced our forthcoming travels, to our old friend Bobby, who will remember him well. Obituaries, I believe, are really less about death than the odd sha... 

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Richard Russo is the author of MohawkThe Risk PoolStraight ManNobody's Fool, and Empire Falls, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and a collection of stories, The Whore's Child. He and his wife live in coastal Maine. 



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