After the obligatory reading of Our Town in high school I pretty much never wanted to read Wilder again. That didn't change, but when The Bridge popped up as a title in our library's book club (in which I am the staff rep) I had to give it another go. And, I am actually grateful I did.
Almost a half-dozen people die in the first sentence, which definitely works as a method of hooking the reader. What follows is a fascinating character study of the people who have died along with a cultural examination of pre-industrial revolution Peru. A monk attempts to find the reason why those individuals died, and through his research he finds ways in which they are connected.
While Wilder had not been to Peru before the wrote this novel, the sense of place is spectacular. I'm baffled that critics of his time felt he shouldn't have won the Pulitzer for this because he was an "optimistic" and "sentimental" writer. 5 people die in the first sentence. I'm kinda curious about how they defined "optimistic" in the 1920s. What fascinated me even more was that politicians frequently quote from this book. Then Prime Minister Tony Blair quoted the last sentences at a memorial for 9/11 shortly after the attacks. When the bridge collapsed in the Twin Cities, politicians again turned to this book. Perhaps the contemporary critics were psychic in calling Wilder "sentimental." At the very least the sentiment of the novel has lasted almost 100 years and is still relevant.
This is not the kind of novel I like, and I'm still not keen on reading more Wilder, but after reading The Bridge I'm willing to admit it's more a matter of taste than of skill. This may not be my favorite novel of all time, but I certainly admire the hell out of it.