When a book I chose to read on my own is later selected by one of my clubs, I'm pleased to be a step ahead in my reading queue. But when a book club choice is a winner like Richard Russo's "Bridge Of Sighs" (2007), it's even better - I have a legitimate excuse to re-read, an impulse I don't often indulge.
Russo sets the bulk of the action here in hardscrabble upstate New York, a locale recognizable to anyone who has read his other work. The milieu, his unerring ear for the way people speak to each other, and a keen sense of how folks often muddle through life give Russo's novels the familiar feeling of old shoes. Though the novel is nominally about Louis and Sarah Lynch - married forty years and living in their high school hometown - and a planned visit to Venice to re-connect with artist Bobby Noonan, a high school friend who has lived abroad since graduation - the book takes that simple premise and converts it into a roomy and complex multi-generational saga. Such are the storytelling gifts of Richard Russo - familiar but fresh; simple but rich.
As always, Russo's affection for his characters helps him slowly reveal the shadow side of seemingly unassailable traits. For example, here he shows how Louis' solidity and loyalty sometimes curdle into dullness and his unfailing optimism can make it difficult to detect nuance. Soon after finishing "Bridge Of Sighs" this second time I recalled someone recently telling me he reads only non-fiction because he likes to "learn something when I read". I'm working on the way to bring up Russo's work in the next conversation I have with that person.