Mr. Bridge ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Evan S. Connell was an American writer who lived from 1924 to 2013. His 1969 novel, Mr. Bridge, is a continuation of Mrs. Bridge (published in 1959), and follows the lives of the Bridge family of Kansas City, Missouri, from the 1930s through World War II. Mr. Bridge is technically not a sequel to Mrs. Bridge, because Mr. Bridge is set at an earlier time than Mrs. Bridge, even though it was written ten years later. (You got that?)
Walter Bridge is the father of three children approaching adulthood: Carolyn, Ruth and Douglas. Carolyn is the smart, sensible one who enrolls in college. Ruth is the rebellious one, inclined to flaunt convention. Douglas, the youngest of the three, climbs trees and digs holes; when he sees a movie about airplane pilots, he wants to be a pilot, even though he is only twelve.
Mr. Bridge (the character, not the novel) is a hard-working lawyer. He subscribes to the theory that hard work equals success, and success equals material wealth, happiness and comfort for his wife and children. His wife, India Bridge, is a country club matron, a sheltered woman who has never seen a fortune cookie and who knows little about the world. She lives in an insulated world of privilege and class. She looks to her husband for cues on how to behave, what to think, what to like or dislike, etc. She leaves the running of her household to her black cook-maid-housekeeper, Harriet, so she has lots of time to go shopping and have lunch with her friends. The thing about Harriet is that she has an unsavory boyfriend named Couperin and a penchant for too many martinis.
Living in a world dominated by women and children, Mr. Bridge must, by necessity, be the stalwart male. He is all the things that one might expect for a man of his time (1930s and ‘40s) and place (Midwest United States.) He is politically conservative (Franklin Roosevelt makes him cringe) and he believes that people of minorities are better off left in their own place. Today he would be called a racist. He belongs to a definite, identifiable class, a dying breed even in the 1940s.
Mr. Bridge is a loosely structured, episodic novel that, in the hands of a master writer like Even S. Connell, is a fascinating reading experience from the American realist school of writing. Later novels about life in suburbia were often drenched in sex and secret love affairs. There’s nothing like that in Mr. Bridge. Just solid writing and a set of compelling, believable characters and situations.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp