Friday, October 19, 2007

Richard Russo's "Bridge of Sighs"

I don't often get to review mainstream novels for The Chronicle, but I was happy to write about Richard Russo's "Bridge of Sighs" for today's edition. I came to Russo via his academic comedy "Straight Man," which is a delight through and through, and have read all of his novels, except for "Mohawk." Russo writes about the kinds of places I grew up in, and he generally gets the details right.

If you haven't seen Robert Benton's film adaptation of Russo's "Nobody's Fool," you ought to check it out on DVD. It's really good. Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy are excellent in it, of course, but so are both Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith. And how often does that happen?

Russo worked with Benton again on "Twilight," which I haven't seen and nobody ever talks about. (IMDB lists its top three plot keywords as Based On Novel / Female Nudity / Breasts. Make of that what you will.) Fred Schepisi directed a two-part HBO movie based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Empire Falls," which is also worth your attention. And Russo wrote the screenplay for Harold Ramis's "The Ice Harvest," based on Scott Phillips's blackly hilarious Midwestern noir novel.

In the Chronicle piece, I'm not sure I adequately expressed my consternation over the climatic chapters of "Bridge of Sighs." I don't want to spoil anything, but Russo suddenly brings in a supporting cast of African American characters who are not convincing in any way, shape or form. For someone who writes so knowingly about class, Russo is surprisingly awkward when it comes to race.

Don't let that stop you from picking up "Bridge of Sighs," though. It's a big, involving small-town saga that hits most of the right notes.

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