Saturday, March 19, 2011

#30 - "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" by Thornton Wilder

The 30th book from The List is finished already, but that should come as no surprise, as The Bridge of San Luis Rey  has taken the title of shortest book so far, with only 107 pages.  The title was previously held by  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which weighed in at a meaty 171 pages.  But while this may have been quite a few pages shorter, I couldn't read it quite as quickly.  I'm guessing that's because it's a little deeper, I hadn't read it before, and there weren't any illustrations.  Of course that's only this edition, when the book was first published, it actually did contain illustrations, no less than eleven in fact.  The reason was, the publisher felt it needed more, for lack of a better word, girth, to warrant it's price of $2.50  In addition to the illustrations it was also printed on very heavy stock with "grotesquely wide margins."  I thought when I did this to my essays in University, I was the only one.

The book opens by telling the reader that "on Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke..." taking with it five people.  The book follows each of the five in the days or even years leading up that fateful day and how they ended up crossing the bridge at that exact moment.  In a way, the non-linear narrative used reminded me of "Reservoir Dogs," since the bridge collapses in the first line of the book and the rest of the novel explains how it all happened.  It's also reminiscent of an episode of "The Simpsons" entitled "Trilogy of Error," which features three separate story lines that all meet in the end.  Much like that, each character in this book's story culminates in the same event at the end.

I feel it made for an interesting reading experience; knowing what would happen, but unsure exactly how it would happen.  It was also interesting to learn how these different characters, each from different backgrounds, meet at the same place at the same time, seemingly for no reason.  Or, was it part of God's plan?  This is the question posed by Brother Juniper, a wandering man of the cloth who witnessed the event.  He investigates why this happened to these five people by researching their backgrounds.  His goal is to determine why God would have chosen these people to perish in this accident.  But when his conclusions question God's intention, his work is declared heresy and the book and its author are burned at the stake.  It was because of this slightly negative commentary on the Church, that the book received its' few scathing reviews, from newspapers in Catholic strongholds like Ireland.

For me, it was a well written book with a good story, interesting characters and a unique linear flow.  Add this to the pile of books I didn't know anything about but have enjoyed thoroughly, which as I've said before, shouldn't be any surprise; they're all books from a list of great books.

Read Time's original review from December 5, 1927 right here.

My next book will be The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.  Another one I know nothing about.  Go figure.  For those keeping track, I know I had said I would read Gone with the Wind 30th, but it has been put off indefinitely.  I simply don't have the time to read another 1,000 page behemoth right now.  I"ll try to get it in before I hit 50, but I make no promises.

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