posted by Liza

Recently, the Eastern Avenue Branch book club, Between the Lines, read Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The Bridge tells the story of the deaths of a group of people who were standing on a legendary rope bridge when it collapsed. The rich characters include two young twins divided by a woman, a famous actress known worldwide and her descent into madness, and a monk who tries to make sense of the disaster. The novel tells the story as it happened, before it happened, and after it happened.

I was pleasantly surprised by Wilder’s winning novel. I remember reading Our Town in high school and thinking it was overly sentimental and sappy. What shocked me in doing research about The Bridge was that many people in Wilder’s day thought The Bridge was too optimistic and not literary enough. Now, I know times are different from the 1920s when Wilder crafted this tale, but I found it hard to think a book in which half a dozen people die in the first paragraph is too optimistic. Perhaps in the age of prohibition and flappers it was.

Wilder based the Peruvian tale on an actual bridge in South America, and his ability to capture a sense of place is remarkable. While Wilder did travel to Peru, he did so many years after writing The Bridge. Yet, it’s not hard to imagine the llamas, see the mountains, and fully feel the emotions of the characters, many of whom were based on real historical figures. I’m not adding The Bridge to my list of most favorite novels, but I have to say that this novel held my attention and interest much longer than Our Town.

Maybe it was the llamas.

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