BY SEAN CLARK
Author: Thornton Wilder
1927, Albert & Charles Boni
Filed Under: Literary, Historical
I received this book as a gibing gift after losing a game of Trivial Pursuit on a Thornton Wilder question. For most of us, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (winner of the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for literature) is one of those books that we either read for an assignment at some point during our schooling, or never even saw blip on the radar. For me it was the latter. But I’m glad I finally had the chance to read it, because it’s a good little novel.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey revolves around three short tales, all of which build toward characters’ demises in the titular bridge’s collapse. No spoilers here, the incident occurs in the book’s beginning (in a chapter titled “Perhaps an Accident”), and works to frame the stories within. The characters run the gamut of class, gender, and race, and their disparities and likenesses are the primary focus of the book. Each story features two primary characters, and each interweaves with the other tales. At first only slightly, but as the trips across the bridge come nearer, the plot braids become tighter. It’s an extremely well-crafted book.
Apparently, TBOSLR is fairly well know for its fatalism. To an extent in the beginning and overtly in the final section, Wilder, through an inquisitive Jesuit priest named Brother Juniper, questions whether the bridge’s collapse and the characters’ deaths were predestined. Juniper gets a little overzealous, and dedicates six years of his life to learning everything he can about those who perished, in hopes of determining a mathematical model for quantifying faith and how it affects God’s plan when ploting out our lives. Like the bridge, the book is destroyed, but we are told a copy survives (and presumably it’s the foundation for Wilder’s book itself).
As this book weighs in at barely over a hundred pages, deciding whether this might be a good pick for you is likely best informed by the framework rather than a summary of the three story lines. If it seems like your cup of tea, then you’ll be glad to have the intertwining plot(s) disclosed to you at Wilder’s pace, as the book was intended. His story asks a big question and purposefully does not deliver an answer. That’s left up for the reader to tease out.
Similar Reads: The Bridge on the Drina (Andrić), Winesburg, Ohio (Anderson)