Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The bridge of San Luis Rey

Thornton Wilder was both a playwright and a novelist.  The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a slim little novel with a pretty fascinating premise.  A bridge suddenly collapses, killing five people.  Why those five?  Why not a different set of people?

Great question.  I can think of a million different ways to take that story.  Wilder did none of them.  Instead he wrote chapters that talked about the lives of three of the individuals.  These three chapters were framed with chapters about a man who hypothesized that those five were taken because they had lived a complete life.

Here's the problem.  Wilder wrote chapters about three of the individuals.  The other two people killed were tag-alongs to these three.  And the three chapters didn't succeed in giving me a sense of whether their lives were complete or not.  The chapters read to me like character sketches for the story Wilder didn't write.  Maybe he intended for us to write the story ourselves, draw our conclusions about the characters.  But then why the bookend chapters?

This novel really left me scratching my head.

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