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Mr. Bridge: A Novel Paperback – January 13, 2005
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"One of our most interesting and intelligent American writers... Connell has written a small masterpiece, its structure exactly matched with its story."
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The novel spans about 25 years of India Bridge's life, from the time she gets married at age 26 (narrowly escaping, one senses, spinsterhood) to the time her youngest child is going off to war. It is set in an affluent section of Kansas City during the Twenties and Thirties. Mr. and Mrs. Bridge are thoroughly imbued with Midwestern Republican values, as are most of the secondary characters, their friends and neighbors. There are a few genuine eccentrics, but no one is particularly notable, much less admirable or heroic.
The story is told in a pointillistic, anecdotal fashion. The writing is spare and straightforward. I am finding it difficult to make the novel sound interesting. Yet it is . . . which is a tribute to the craftsmanship underlying this starkly realistic portrayal of a certain unlamented time and place of American life. Four-and-a-half stars.
P.S.: Evan S. Connell, now 86, is one of the more under-appreciated men of American letters. MRS. BRIDGE was the first of (by my count) seven novels. He also has written short stories, poetry, essays, and book-length works of non-fiction, including the nonpareil "Son of the Morning Star", an extended meditation on Custer at the Little Big Horn and the plowing under of Native Americans.
Addendum (18 January 2013): Evan S. Connell died last week, alone, here in Santa Fe. I wish I had had the opportunity to meet him.
Mrs. Bridge tells the story of Mrs. India Bridge, from the time she gets married until the end of her life. Set in suburban America around the 1950s, her life as a housewife is understandably not terribly eventful. Still, there is something compelling about her, something real and honest about her character that made me want to keep reading. The reality of the novel made me wish that she would improve, do more in life, be a better person. I celebrated her small triumphs, and was disappointed at her inevitable failures. Even though she was silly and superficial at times, even occasionally racist and sexist in a way that only middle-class white women in the 1950s could be, I still cared for her. This isn't something I say about many novels, but I swear I know Mrs. Bridge.
The novel itself has a very interesting structure. Instead of going straight through every event in her life, the novel is made up of about 130 short chapters, each averaging a few pages in length. Each chapter is an episode, a single event or occurrence in Mrs. Bridge's life. The episodes move in chronological order, so despite the strange structure the book is not at all confusing, and is actually a very quick and easy read. All these little episodes come together to form a sort of pointillist painting of Mrs. Bridge's life and of the suburban middle-class that she is a part of. Ranging from the silly to the sad, these little pictures show her attempts at growth and understanding in a world whose conveniences have made her life so easy as to be useless. Though very often silly and shallow, Mrs. Bridge is a tragic character.
Though I wasn't expecting to at first, I really loved Mrs. Bridge. I loved the crazy short chapters that I read like I eat potato chips, promising "just one more, and then I'm done." I loved the language, which was simple and readable without being dumbed-down or simplistic. The mix of mocking irony and gentle affection made the tone of this novel seem honest, and closely matched my own feelings toward the characters. Some of the chapters cut right to my heart, hitting home in a way that I never really expected a story about an aging housewife would. Though I never would have picked it up on my own, I can honestly say that I am glad I read Mrs. Bridge.
Rating: 4.5 stars
These snippets of her life gradually enable the reader to build up a picture of Mrs Bridge, and her rather sheltered and narrow life. We begin to understand her gradual emotional estrangement from her three children and her somewhat distant relationship with her husband who thinks that his role in life is to work all the hours God sends in order to more than adequately provide for his family. Occasionally funny and often poignant, overall this is really rather a sad tale. Mrs Bridge, as she is known to everyone except her friend Grace, who calls her by her christian name, India, gradually comes to realise over the years that her life is empty, but can see no way out. She is bored and yearns emotional attachment but is not equipped to achieve it so that all her relationships, both familial and social, remain rather distant.
This is a very worthwhile book which becomes increasingly compulsive reading the further you get into it. I read through Mrs Bridge very quickly and would highly recommend it to others. It is certainly very worthy of inclusion in the modern classics series.