Monday, July 27, 2009
"Talk not to me of blasphemy, man!"
Oh, I just finished Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs.
Russo also wrote Empire Falls, which won a Pulitzer in 2001, and Nobody's Fool, a novel made into a movie starring Paul Newman. Empire Falls was one of the best books from 2001, in my humble but accurate opinion.
Russo's an old fashioned writer who draws you in with his attention to detail, his rapt story-telling, and his unforgettable characters.
Told from the point of view of Lou (Lucy) Lynch, a man who has lived in the same small town in upstate New York his whole life and has been married to his wife for forty years, Lucy and his wife Sarah are about to take a much anticipated trip to Italy, and for some reason, this propels Lucy to scribble away at his memoirs in the upstairs bedroom.
His best childhood friend lives in Italy, and Lucy hasn't seen him for over forty years. As he thinks about Bobby Manconi, the memories dredge up a traumatic event that determined the man that Lucy would turn out to be and gave evidence of why Bobby and Lucy had not be in touch for forty two years.
Russo gives you not just Lucy's point of view, but his wife Sarah's, his son Owen, and, of course, the expatriate Bobby.
One of my favorite scenes has Lucy and Bobby's senior English teacher, Mr. Berg, acting out the crazed Ahab's (from Herman Melville's Moby Dick) monomaniacal rant about pasteboard masks.
While in the middle of his Ahab rant imitation, Mr. Berg faced his students as Ahab would have "mutinous seamen, " and one student, obviously unread, says, "Mr. Berg? Can you at least tell us what chapter you're on?"
Mr. Berg practically flew back down the stage to stand in front of a student who dared to not remember this scene from his assigned reading ... "Talk not to be of blasphemy, man!"
I relate -- it is blasphemy that students won't read. That used to be so frustrating as a teacher.
Mr. Berg was an Ahab himself or even perhaps, a Jay Gatsby, as Lucy recalls, he was a "frustrated dreamer."
Is that what I was as a teacher? A frustrated dreamer?
I was known to swing my peg leg up and down the front of the classroom and try to get students to just read an excerpt from Moby Dick. My goodness, Lucy and his peers read the whole novel.