Rain. Pouring down here in southwest Florida. Pounding on the roof, brimming in the ponds, dripping from palm fronds. Pouring.
It’s allright, though, because we’re inside, we’re not flooded, alligators aren’t lumbering toward my front door. I have a marvelous book (Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo), fresh hot coffee (Gevalia, Traditional Roast), and new music on my i-pod (Asturias, by Juan Quesada).
Come in, dry off, and share the morning with me.
Welcome to The Sunday Salon.
I’ve come to reading Bridge of Sighs a bit late, so perhaps many of you have already become acquainted with Louis Lynch, aka Lucy (a nickname bestowed on him during kindergarten rollcall, and which has become attached to him, leechlike, for the ensuing 55 years).
But although I’ve barely begun the book, I was hooked by the second paragraph.
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 is 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, lonliness and lack of faith, to name just a few.
Certainly this paragraph made me sit a bit straighter in my chair, for I too have “lived all of my life in the same small town” smack dab in the middle of Michigan’s thumb. My husband, bless his heart, has not only done the same, but also lived in the very same house since his mother brought him home from the hospital 54 years ago. We bought the house from my inlaws when we married, and he simply moved his sleeping quarters from the small bedroom (where our son would later sleep) into the “master” bedroom next door.
So, in Bridge of Sighs, Russo is visiting familar territory, for he explored this topic in Empire Falls, his Pulitzer Prize winning novel centered around a man who has lived his entire life in a small town in Maine. Essentially, what he asks us to consider are the ramifications of staying put, in a world where globalization is almost de riguer, where it’s almost un-American not to reinvent yourself by expanding into other parts of the country, nay, even the world and try your luck.
Certainly I’ve considered this myself, especially in the past ten years as my son seemed only to eager to follow the American directive and first move 1200 miles away from home, then marry a woman whose own home was on the opposite side of the world. For a time, I was doing a fair amount of chomping at the bit, an activity that resulted in the purchase of this very home I’m sitting in, listening to tropical rain storms battering on the slate roof tiles.
But as time has passed, I find myself feeling not a little smug about my longevity in the old neighborhood. And I gaze with narrowed eyes at anyone or anything that threatens to disparage it’s somewhat gritty, downtrodden image. I admit it has fallen prey to the vagaries of time as well as the deleterious effects of this slumping economy – homes stand empty, lost to foreclosure or because their elderly owners have died, once bustling storefronts which were proud family businesses, now stare vacant eyed onto the street. Yet there have been real efforts toward improvement – all dirt roads have been resurfaced with smooth new asphalt, a gorgeous new library has been erected and the old building has been turned into an open air market/amphitheater, yearly community festivals and fairs are being held – in short, the community is working hard to re-invent itself, to persevere in the face of adversity. And when I’m away from it, especially here in this “tropical paradise,” I feel a pecuilar longing to return to those roots, the place where my life story occurred.
In Bridge of Sighs, Russo juxtaposes Lucy’s story with that of Noonan, his childhood friend, a man who left their hometown at a young age and has spent the majority of his life in Italy, where Lucy and his wife are about to travel on a rare vacation. I’m eagerly anticipating what will happen if/when the two reuninte.
Russo’s novels are very much great American stories, peopled with characters of all types, who get through life the best way they know how. He writes with a dry humor and a reserved but profound sadness for the familiar human condition, illuminating all it’s subleties with affection and compassion.