Lisa's Reviews > The Bridge of San Luis Rey

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
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's review
Jul 23, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: classics, literature-fiction, library-books, modern-library-100, pulitzers, 2009-reading-journal
Read in August, 2009

Five people die tragically in the collapse of a footbridge. Was it an accident or part of God's greater plan? A monk who witnesses the fall is determined to examine the lives of these people to see if the lives they lived led them to their deaths.

I thought the story was eloquently articulated. The short vignettes into the lives of the travelers who lost their lives reveals some intimacies about the characters, but still leaves room for conjecture. We are given the most information about Dona Maria, Esteban and Uncle Pio, presumedly because there is more to know about them because of their age. The children, Pepita and Jaime, have less story devoted to them since given their young ages there should be less to tell. I think this helps to illustrate the futility of the monk's effort to spend six years digging into the lives of these five individuals to see if he could scientifically prove what caused them to be at the bridge when it collapsed.

The narrator summarized the monk's folly by stating, "The discrepancy between faith and facts is greater than is generally assumed."(p136) This really made me consider how often people rush to judgment or make assumptions based on only a few nougats of information, which is more often than not misleading.

I was also struck by the narration itself. As I was reading, the narrator came to mind as the angels in It's a Wonderful Life, who are directing Clarence and making observations as to the plight of George Bailey. I see Brother Juniper as Clarence, who has good intentions, but is misguided. The monk thinks, "Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan." The narrator seems to be cognizant of all of the characters and their relationships. He doesn't just tell the story, but he also makes judgments, which suggests he's some sort of supreme being.

Accidents happen. They happen to good people and to bad people. To speculate why it was this person or that persons time to die is to miss the point of their existence. The final insight by the Abbess is quite sublime, "But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." So in the end, it doesn't matter why those five died, what matters is they lived, they loved or were loved, and they are deserving of an honorable death.
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