Bridge of Sighs Bridge of Sighs discussion

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message 1: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sherry Let's start discussing this on March 15, 2008.

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I unfortunately shall be away for two weeks (Or rather, fortunately, as I shall be at a writer's colony writing).... so i won't be able to participate in the discussion. I did like the book although not as much as previous Russos...
I also found a weird disconnect between the two narrators, the first person and the third person, with the third person initially being much more interesting (and much more literately written... I have to assume that was conscious) but once well into it, 100 pages or so, I was hooked. I found it wise and profound and love the way Russo writes about "ordinary" people and makes them seem quite like someone you wish you knew.....

Dottie Lisa -- how wonderful for you to have the opportunity of attending the writer's colony but we will miss your input -- hopefully this discussion will go for a while so you will find plenty of posts to comment upon once you return.

I'm anxious to see where this one goes -- there is so much in the book to think about and discuss it seems to me. The only bad part is that I returned the book to the library and will have to rely on the sieve a great deal (my memory, that is). I'll also be away the first part of the discussion but will try to check in at least.

Ruth How nice, Lisa. What writer's colony will you be at? I loved this book. And will be back after I've gathered my thoughts a little.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Going to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, where I have been fortunate enough to get fellowships since 1989! I have not been in four years though: life got in the way. And I SO need some time to just write. For all you writers out there, artits colonies are God's gift to us. Go, if you can.

message 6: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Since I recommended this, I think I am supposed to start the discussion on this tomorrow. Since I am obviously not going to finish by then, I thought I would cheat and refer those who need inspiration to the the Knopf reading group guide

I am not sure how much value this has. It sounds a lot like my eighth grade teacher trying to make me feel guilty for not doing my reading. Or maybe that's just because I feel guilty for not doing my reading.

For what it's worth, I like what I have read so far, especially the scene where Noonan is confronted by the jealous husband.

message 7: by Dottie (last edited Mar 18, 2008 09:41AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dottie Lisa's comments on art colonies being a gift leads me to one of my questions about Bridge of Sighs. I kept wondering about the fact that Sarah had put her art into a secondary role in her life and the relationship of that to the fact that she also chose to live within the comfort of the "ready-made" family which the Lynch's presented to her. How might this have evolved as a result of her own parents' choices and eventual marital shifts and the subsequent influence those choices and shifts had upon her own life? For the big example, her "date" with Three Mock and the resulting brawl and the aftermath including her father's continued "utilization" (which is the way I see it certainly) of Three Mock in his dealings with the school and the community.

I know, I know -- I'm a day early. But ....

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Interesting point. I was very sad for Sarah, although I understood the choice she made (remember the time they lived in). I wondered why she didn't pursue her art some more even while she married and had a child? Especially as she was so talented. Perhaps her father's experience as an "artist" soured her. I think it is crucial, though, to remember what being a woman was like then, as opposed to now. And, also, how she chose safety and love over the kind of lives her parents led.

Barbara I am a firm believer that childhood experiences mold your life for good. And, Sarah just couldn't resist that comfort of Lou's readymade family. However, she might have slowly evolved into a family of her own, be it traditional or artistic, if Lou hadn't pulled her back when he did. I finished this awhile ago, but was able to renew it at the library so I can check back for some things, but I don't have that fresh memory that is nice. Didn't he use his father's illness to convince her?

I loved this book, recommended it to my sister and she just emailed me this morning saying that she had just finished and wouldn't forget these characters for a long time. My only real criticism is that I couldn't believe that Bobby Marconi would turn into a serious artist. There was so little indication of any sensibility or ability in that area in his early character.

message 10: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth I loved this book, too. The characters were all so full and believable. Even the two characters of Bobby Marconi/Robert Noonan. And that's what they seemed like to me, two completely separate characters.

Like you, Barb, I didn't see anything in Bobby that indicated he would turn into Robert. I've known kids like Bobby, seriously troubled, but hanging onto the edges of normality. He seemed entirely real to me. And so did Noonan. I just could NOT make myself believe he was Bobby.

As soon as I realized the Marconi/Noonan connection I started looking for clues that would explain this transformation, and I saw none.

That's the only thing that flawed this book for me. Otherwise I thought it was wonderful. Russo sure can write. He makes it look so easy.

As for Sarah, being close to contemporary with her, I understand why she sought the safety of Lou and his family, especially considering the times.

This book reminded me very much of Richard Ford's Independence Day. The multi-facetted musings of a middle-aged or aging man. Remarkable that both books kept you reading even through large stretches where nothing much happens, and yet it all happens.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Ah but THAT is the mark of great literature. The truth is that there are whole stretches of life without car chases, murders, or other "action" conceits. A truly wondrous writer can just make us care in people and the wanderings of their mind. I adore Anita Brookner for just this reason (and also the films of Eric Rohmer, where NOTHING happens:))

Melissa On nothing much happening: I think the recurrent image of Mr. Mock painting and painting that fence is emblematic of lots happening that we don't see right away -- the routines of life that in the end mean nothing and add up to everything.

Loved the book, by the way, especially the countering views of Lou from the different characters' persepctives. I thought Russo did a better job making his male characters plausible, leaving some of the key females a bit mysterious or two dimensional. I agree that Bobby >> Robert was hard to believe.

message 13: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane This note is full of SPOILERS!

I was struck by the bridges mentioned in the novel. Lucy's spells started when he was going back and forth across the little bridge to school. When Bobby was there to protect him, he was OK. Then it was interesting that both Sarah and Noonan had painted the Bridge of Sighs in their "present day" paintings. Russo tells us that this particular bridge in Venice is the one that the convicts took to be executed. Noonan's first rendition of the bridge made his agent think it was a gallows, and Sarah's painting was so vivid that Lucy got lost in it. There was death hovering on the other side of the bridge, and Sarah seemed to be the only one able to call Lucy back to life.

Ikey's seemed to symbolize an oasis for all of the main characters. Bobby and Sarah both came from a not-so-loving environment, and Lou Lou was a kind father figure to all of the kids. At the beginning, Lucy liked being in the store because his mother refused to come there. Lucy and Lou could be alone with no conflicts going on. When Sarah arrived, she seemed to add just the right balance.

Lucy as a narrator seems to be a kind and gentle person, but it is interesting that Bobby/Noonan mainly remembers his neediness. I liked the fact that Lucy left out some major things in his story, like the suicide of his only friend. Like someone else said, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that gets painted over.

What did you think of Lucy? Did you have sympathy for him or did you find him annoying?


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

well i am still here for one more day and cannot resist commenting....
I liked Lucy. I didn't think I would at the beginning but I did. I liked him and I understood his motivations. I found him more complex and interesting than one would have thought on the surface...and that I think was Russo's point.
Also.... I seem to be in the minority so far but I completely believed Bobby as Noonan. People who are artists often keep that to themselves until they feel they are in a place they can express it. Although I have known I was a writer since I was 8, I never really did much about it publicly until high school. And remember, Bobby went away for awhile. When he came back as a teenager he seemed quite different and so I was prepared.


These characters have gotten under my skin. Thank you, Richard Russo, for writing about people who are just turning 60, and making them vibrant, interesting and full of life. (That big number is coming up for me soon.) I liked Lucy. He reminded me a little of my father, so I know how exasperating people like that can be. But I liked him a whole lot. Characters seem to come in pairs here. Dec reminds me of a better version of Bobby's father, and a version of Bobby himself. Tessa reminds me of Sarah's mother and a bit of Sarah. There seemed to be combinations of people who were volatile. Dec and Tessa come to mind. And of course Bobby and his father.

Jane, I agree about the bridge symbolism. What I find interesting is that bridges in this book represent a kind of danger, especially to Lucy. He had that terrifying experience in the trunk on a trestle, a kind of bridge. His first strange spell happened there. Bridges for him meant being attacked or having an attack. That could be the reason he wanted to always stay home, never travel, and why he had his big spell right before he was to go to Italy.

I was confused by something, which I'm sure is my fault, and I was wondering if any of you could help me out. Towards the end, Lucy and Sarah are talking about his "memoirs" and she mentions something about the girl on the fire escape (I think it was). He was ashamed of something and didn't admit to the girl being Sarah, or pretended not to remember the girl was Sarah. What was that about?

Dottie I thought that the scene was the stairway up to the third floor where they all went to the dances, Sherry -- don't recall the fire escape. Anyway, there was a time when as the crowd was on the stairs at one of the dances when there was some pushing and those ahead were being forced to lean and I think Lucy and Sarah exchanged a look -- I'm not certain if she reached back to him or he up to her maybe to steady one or the other of them in the crush -- I thought that was the reference when the memoir discussion took place.

I agree that Bobby's years away were when he made the turn toward his life as an artist and that when he returned and spent that senior year at home and had the semi-pleasant relationship with his father for the brief period he kept any indication of his changes pretty much hidden away.
Except -- wasn't there one drawing which he did and Sarah saw? I'm fuzzy on whether there was or wasn't some first inkling of his career at that point in the story.

Sherry -- I think each of the two Russo books I've read with this group had characters which really were quite real to me not only while reading but afterward -- and I agree that I know people who have traits which he develops in his characters -- they are very real and easy to recognize as such. I also find myself thinking of them long afterward.

I found Lucy annoying but equally appealing. Rather like many people I've encountered in my life -- maybe even myself. It's the push and pull of human give and take. And -- women in that time did often put their own interests and talents into the background or totally ignore them -- I didn't feel Sarh had totally ignored her art though. I got the impression she had at least done something from time to time before turning to teaching later.

In Bobby/Noonan, I could completely see some of my past third grade children with whom I worked. Some of the most troubled boys were often quite talented in drawing and art of varying kinds -- I have a handful of those who remain clear in my memory and about whom I often wonder what and where and if their talents have somehow come through and "saved" them in the same sense that Noonan's had at least partially done for him.

I loved this book , but I am out of talk time at the moment.

message 17: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth I couldn't help liking Lucy, but if I were married to him all that passivity and blind optimism would drive me crazy. I even wondered if that optimism was a desperate wall built against the fear boiling below.


message 18: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane Sherry,

If this book weren't so darn big, I would find that particular scene. In his memoirs, Lucy mentioned seeing a girl who was waiting for the dance. He said something about her being as lonely as he was and that she was as afraid to acknowledge him as he was to acknowledge her. They each didn't want to show that they were not in the "cool" crowd. If they acknowledged each other, they would both admit that they were alike: loners.


Dottie And Sarah says she was that girl, correct? But Lucy denies it and yet I think the scene in the memoir is as Jane says -- which means Lucy did recognize Sarah, no? I, too, wish I had my hands on the book -- but I read the library copy and didn't find any already shelved used copies in my two fav Sacramento stores this long weekend visit -- darn. Got a baker's dozen of other great ones though!

Sherry Thanks, Jane and Dottie. I vaguely remember that scene, but I don't understand why Lucy would be ashamed for anything that happened. Why did I think it was a fire escape? Hmmm..

I tried finding the scene, too, Jane, and I had the same trouble as you, the book is big.

Another small nitpick about something that confused me. Remember when Bobby was living up above the Rexall store and his brother came to tell him that his mother was pregnant again? As I remember it, Bobby woke up, sensing someone in the attic with him. Then he saw David. (David was the name of the suicide, and I don't remember any other David having been mentioned before). Then a moment later it was obviously a brother, but I was confused because in the very next page, Lucy tells us about the sad David who committed suicide. For a split second I was thinking that Bobby's brother had been the one to kill himself, but that was obviously not right. Why do you think Russo had two Davids so close together?

message 21: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane Sherry,

The two Davids didn't bother me. That seems like real life, after all I have two good friends named Jean.


Barbara I got very mixed up about the suicide when it was referenced later. I took a big break in the middle of reading this and that is one of the details that I forgot when I picked it up again.

I have been catching up on my podcasts lately and found one in NPR's Book Tour with Russo reading from and commenting on Bridge of Sighs at Washington D.C.'s Politics and Prose bookstore. When he introduces the book, he says that one of the two main characters stays and one goes from the small town in which they were friends. The person who introduced him on the podcast said that this might also be two sides of Russo. He left the small New York State town in which he grew up, but always returns to small towns in his fiction.
I was so wrapped up in all the details and characters that I probably missed how important this dichotomy of staying and going was. And, then when Bobby comes back, he dies. Do you think that's significant to that contract as well?

Also, Russo read the part in Venice in which the art dealer woman is warily waking Noonan up because he had been disoriented and punched her in the middle of his recent night terrors. She tells him that he has been saying "I'm sorry" repeatedly in his sleep. Who do you think he was talking to? Was it his father, his mother, Lou, Sarah or someone else I haven't thought of?

BTW, the talk about Dec reminded me that I really liked his character. It was a nice little bit of comedy, yet very real.

Mary Anne I really liked this book. A strange thing happened, though, when I starting reading it, and I might as well 'fess up. The laconic writing style at the start of the book, particularly following so closely after my reading of On Chesil Beach, actually irritated me. Yes, I know I was the one who complained about McEwan. But it really took me a while to get into the change of pace of this book.

Sherry The two Davids only bothered me because he had never referred to his brother by name before. At least I didn't notice it. And they came so close together. But what a minor quibble. I just loved this book and had dreams about it the night I finished. The characters did not want to leave my brain.

Dottie I remember the encounter of the two Davids within the short time as I read. I wondered if there wasn't some connection with the same David and Bobby -- and some connection of David with the gang who locked Lucy into that trunk -- if there might be something which linked David to that gang and marked him in his own way as Lucy's reaction to his encounter marked him. I think the mention of David by Bobby holds some significance related to that gang -- Bobby was culpable (and admitted as much) in Lucy's experience -- I think he had some connection to David as well -- and the same David who later killed himself. I don't know. I need a copy of this book obviously so I can re-read it immediately.

message 26: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth I didn't even realize there were two Davids. But I was confused when the suicide David was mentioned late in the book. I didn't remember his ever being mentioned before. Was he?


Sherry He was mentioned, Ruth, however briefly. I can't tell you where or when, though.

Barbara I'm on my way to take this book back to the library and found a note I had tucked inside it with the following quotation from Marconi/Noonan:

It was amazing, when you thought about it, how effortlessly hate sliped into the space reserved for love, and vice versa, as if these two things, identical in size and shape, had been made compatible by design.

Interesting thought, eh?

message 29: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth Very.

message 30: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth Very.


message 31: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane One thing that we haven't discussed is Tessa's statement to Bobby that it is impossible for people to change. Do you agree with her? I sat there and thought of how I have changed over the years and how people I know have changed. Does anyone change in the book or are they stuck in the past? Tessa thought her husband was incapable of change. Was that the small town influence?


Sherry I think Lou changed incrementally. At the end he was allowing his himself to be taken off on trips and he was planning to really go to Italy. Just the fact of writing down his life and mulling it over changed him in small ways I think. He was finally being let out of that trunk.

message 33: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth Maybe what Tessa meant was that we cannot change other people. Which is true. Change has to come from the inside.


Dottie But as Jane points out we do change -- and if we change because it comes from the inside/from ourselves then that doesn't fit with Tesssa's comment either. I recall the comment but wish I had some surrounding text for deciphering what she was getting at. Do you have that spot marked, by chance, Jane?

Barb -- very interesting quote there. More meaningful perhaps from Bobby/Noonan. I seem to remember this as being relative to several of the other characters. Noonan was talking about some of the others -- Lucy/Lou included if I'm remembering correctly.

The neediness of Lou relative to Bobby might easily have turned to the other side of the coin given the evnets of the senior year when the three were so close and then with Sarah's return and the evntual revelation that Lou had seen the drawing through the train window when he picked Sarah up. Noonan had examples of that two sided coin within his family as he also learned during that last year at home.

Barbara Dottie, excellent points about the relevance of Lou to that quote, particularly regarding Bobby.

I think that from Tessa's viewpoint, people don't change because she wanted big sweeping ones and they rarely happen. Also, she didn't get the changes she wanted, but even Lou's father changed when he decided to buy that store.

Sherry I think Tessa also was trying to protect Lou. She didn't want his heart to get broken yet again by Bobby. I think she really wanted people to change and she knew they did on some level, but in her pessimistic view of the world, was attempting to inoculate Lou who had inherited that innocence and hope from his father.

message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

I am one of those who think people don't change who they essentially are. They grow and they learn and they adapt but who they are insice stays intact. Just MHO.:)

Dottie Lisa, I would tend to agree with that except that even the essence of a person can be changed if there is an encounter with and experience of something which so deeply affects the person emotionally and perhaps even physically that it colors all which comes after. I see Lou/Lucy and the experience in the trunk as such an encounter -- instead of it changing his core approach to things he led a life with his "spells" and stayed firmly entrnched in the life he saw as fitting him -- in imitation of his father's dealings with the world. such an experience could easily have led him to be a completely opposite person -- suspicious, fearful, untrusting. I think in fact the spells show up when those very real and unresolved suspicions, fears, and distrust of certain people become too strong for him to deal with them as the person he is.

Now I'm not sure if I'm proving my own point or yours or probably just rambling! I know I've enocuntered sea changes in how deep certain of my own traits are from time to time -- and I think I detect changes both positve and negative as a result. I think even one's core can be shaken so drastically that it changes a person without the person's wishing that change. Am I talking about trauma? Possibly but I'm not thinking of events normally labeled trauma (such as rape, suicide, murders) but of things a step below that.

Dottie Was Tessa really pessimistic? Or simply aware of things under the surface and more aware of the wider range of traits within a person? Did she simply pick up many more "clues" than her husband or was she more attuned to the harsher realities involved in the Marconi family's life, for one example? Did she know more about the underlying causes of the abuse and the pregnancies than was revealed by Russo to us the reader -- at least until close to the very end?

For someone like Tessa, life is not so simple or easy either. She picks up the tiniest details and they color her thinking and her feelings about events. She must temper this "overload" as I saw it and walk a fine line when trying to keep her family as they are and yet her own knowledge and awareness of things often causes her to break out in exasperation at them and to demand that they try to see "reality".

Again -- "reality" is different for each of the persons involved. We come back to the underlying discussion of whether those traits born into a person are immutable by experience. I come down on some combination of these being where any real change must happen.

The more I think of this book -- the more I admire Russo's writing. As I said in my review --what a book!

message 40: by Dottie (last edited Mar 26, 2008 11:27PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dottie And how did Tessa get to her view? Remember her father and his approach to things -- similar to her husband Lou's -- and the resulting experience which she lived through given the situation with Gabriel's giving her the kiss. Tessa seemed to be ahead of the thinking and change on racial divisions and thus had a different outlook on the developments and the static state of change as it played out in the next generation. Gabriel also.

There are people who seem to see more readily past the differences and act in accordingly and those who talk about and appear to be acting with no prejudices and yet the basis for their behavior is flawed. There was an account in there somewhere of Tessa's father or maybe Lou and he begins to explain why he treats the black people as he does and is brought up short by Tessa who points out the flaw in the reasoning he offers.

Again, Tessa lived out a life with Lou -- and there's a lot of her father's thinking echoed in her husband. Sarah gives up her art or at least relegates it to a secondary role and stays safely in the Lynch family in reaction to her own family. How much of what is done and experienced ties back to what we live and experience in our own family beforehand? Where, how, and when should a person cut the loops which repeat and to what result -- for good or ill?

message 41: by Ann D (new)

Ann D What did you all think of the hints that Lucy had homosexual tendencies? Lucy says that just like the boy who committed suicide wanted to kiss him, he also wanted to kiss Bobby. Bobby's Dad was pretty convinced that Lucy was gay, and Russo made a big point that Lucy treated Sarah more like a best buddy than a girlfriend in high school. What does it all mean?

I liked Tessa a lot and felt sad that she was so underappreciated by her family. I suppose I am more like Tessa than anyone else in the book, although that is not a very good thing. :) Lucy I liked; by temperament he was very fearful and the incident with the trunk really damaged him. Wasn't it interesting that he claimed that he immediately passed out into a peaceful state, although Bobby remembers hearing his terrified screams. Lou Lou struck me as very dense, and I think I would have problems having him as a friend, much less a husband.

Ann D.

message 42: by Jane (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jane I actually found the page where Tessa talks to Bobby about change or the lack thereof. It is page 283. She is talking about Bobby's mother at first, and she says, "Because people don't change. You DO know that right?" Later she says, "Don't confuse growing up with changing. I'm talking about what's inside, not the fact that you shave your chin."

If she means that people are either fundamentally good or bad, maybe she is right, but I do think that people change and grow as they go through life. Is a good person going to suddenly turn into an evil person? I don't think so. But a Bobby Marconi can become a Noonan by breaking out of the small town mentality. Still he is fighting his demons even at the end, and he is afraid that he is a copy of his father.


Dottie Glad you brought that up, Ann, that possibility certainly is an underlying theme through much of the book. Thanks, Jane, for finding the passage and adding to it. We are off to a piano performance so will talk more later.

Sherry Ann, I think it's very possible that Lucy did have homosexual tendencies. But mostly, I think he loved individuals strongly. He loved Bobby and he loved Sarah. He really loved his dad. I don't think there was any sexual connotation to any of the loves of his life, maybe not even Sarah.

message 45: by Barbara (last edited Mar 26, 2008 05:24AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Barbara Actually, Sherry, I had the same thoughts about an almost asexuality in Lou. I can't remember the lines, but there was something that implied that he wasn't terribly interested in sex.

Jane, I remember that too now that you have the quote. It feels like an effort at protection, like when my mother said to look at the parents of the person you were marrying because people often become their parents in surprising ways when they get older.

message 46: by [deleted user] (new)

Dottie, I think you and I fundamentally agree.... people can change their behaviors due to some large event.... but they don't change their inner selves.

As for Lucy's latent homosexsuality. I think, more than anything, he was not the rampant hetero Bobby was; it was clear his sexuality was more tempered and he did feel something intense for Bobby. I think he was more not very highly sexualized.

I loved the book, too, the more I got into it. It was gorgeous and compelling and, I think, said important things about ordinary folk.

Mary Ellen I am still reading the book, but wanted to respond to a few of the comments.

I found the Bobby/Noonan transformation a shock, but it was the young Bobby-to-adult Noonan that was jarring, when I first realized they were the same person. The high school Bobby and the adult Noonan seemed pretty much alike: self-centered, a little ruthless, intelligent. And he has his first artistic "dream" in high school.

I also found the shifting perspective on Bobby's father confusing. Hard to know which one was the real one. Maybe that is clearer at the end of the book (I have about 100 pp. to go.), or maybe that is the point: We never really know ourselves, and we never really know another person.

Mary Ellen

message 48: by Ann D (last edited Mar 27, 2008 04:40PM) (new)

Ann D Sherry,
Very well put - I agree with those who felt that Lou was more asexual than anything else. He cared deeply about people, but sex didn't seem that important to him.

Jane, I agree with you that people can change. Sometimes I look back on the person I was in high school and I can hardly recognize myself. I have the same values, but my ideas and ways of relating to others have really changed.

Mary Ellen has really brought up some interesting questions.


Not only did I wonder about the new perspective on Bobby's father, but I also thought new information about the mother raised some interesting questions. One son raised the possibility that some of the kids had different fathers and we were led to believe that she had been fooling around very recently. In fact, I wondered what the chances were that Bobby's father was not responsible for the last pregnancy. No one else in the book seemed to entertain that possibility, however.

Barb, I used to joke with my husband that if everyone followed that rule about looking at the parents before finding a mate, I would still be single.

Ann D.

message 49: by Ophelia (new)

Ophelia Sherry,

This is to cancel my previous question, I have now found the discussion of "Bridge of Sighs".


message 50: by Barbara (last edited Mar 29, 2008 05:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Barbara Glad you got here, Ophelia. What did you think of the book?

And, you spoke a great truth, Ann (in your kidding with your husband).

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