2010: 87. The Bridge of San Luis Rey

“On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.”

The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder

         I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this book (though I know the first time was in tenth grade - thanks, Mrs. Toth!), but it’s very familiar to me, and I found it comforting to re-read (despite its sadness - all those deaths, at the moment before they could change their lives - not to mention the poor little friar burned at the stake at the end).  But then, I am, despite, the sneering of modern critics, a Wilder fan.  I find Our Town poignant, and the priest at my wedding quoted The Skin of Our Teeth, putting that play in my heart forever (and I think it’s pretty good, too).  Wilder is out of fashion, but I’m still a fan, and I think that “There is a land of the living, and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning,” isn’t too far off from “Only Connect” - and we don’t sneer at Forster.

         Anyway, the plot is simple - a famous bridge in Peru collapses*, and five people die.  The novel examines the lives of these people before the bridge fell.  Their stories are funny and sad and charming, and really they are about love, and the importance of it in our lives.  Poor little Pepita, sad Esteban, proud Dona Maria, clever Uncle Pio, and the Perichole’s little son.  The stories of their lives are sweet and touching, and the point of the novel is how love is the most important thing in life and the connection between the living and the dead might be a little trite, but it’s still true.  It’s a short book and an easy read, but I enjoy it every time I read it. 

*Why Peru? Who knows? I will say (as I’ve mentioned before), that when I went to Peru, the Lonely Planet recommended this book and Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto as to-reads, which seemed a little silly to me, since both were written by Americans.  I’m not even sure that Wilder ever visited Peru.  But that doesn’t diminish the book - just it’s value as something to read to get you excited for your trip to Peru.

Categories:  Re-Read, Fiction, Modern Library Top 100

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017