I went into this reading adventure like a Sunday driver who sets out with no particular destination, but looks for a new route without depending on the luxury of a map (or shall I say GPS). Wilder did not disappoint and the trip was one down a road most certainly less traveled.
We are taken to Peru in the early 1700’s where a bridge collapses plunging its travelers to their deaths into the gulf below them. The accidents is witnessed by a monk who decides to write about the lives of those on that bridge in a quest to answer the age old question of fate vs. mere chance.
The intricacies of each character are well developed and Wilder connects them in an interesting way.
Dona Maria is a wealthy and rather unattractive woman who yearns for a loving relationship with a daughter, Dona Clara, who is living in Spain. The mother’s letters to Dona Clara are either unanswered or responded to with such impudence that one could feel the ache within the maternal heart. She takes in an orphan named Pepita to fill her daughter’s void, yet they seemingly miss each other’s cues.
Uncle Pio is a vagabond who has shirked the many opportunities that have come his way. He is much more at ease living a mimimalistic life provided he has beauty around him; whether it be a woman, literature or some other form of art. He mentors a young orphan, Camila, who later becomes a renowned actress.
Esteban lives with his twin brother, Manuel. They speak to each other in a language they have created to keep them in a world apart. They work at a variety of odd jobs and eventually return to print work which requires little in the way of conversation which suits them both. The allure of a woman inevitably pulls the brothers apart and concludes with an almost operatic finale. The orphans’ lives both end tragically and sadly, apart.
The connection of the victims is the orphanage, run by Madre Maria del Pilar, a feminist very much ahead of her time. Her efforts for the best interest of the children in her care, although ending in tragedy, are successful in her mind for the love, even at its slightest, that they have experienced.
Now he discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other. There may be two equally good, equally gifted, equally beautiful, but there may never be two that love one another equally well.
In the unnatural voice with which we make the greatest declarations of our lives, he muttered: “I’m in your way,” and turned to go.
Having lived such an interesting life, I know I’d enjoy the company of Mr. Wilder. I’d love to ask him how he overcome his writer’s block while penning Our Town and how his characters seem to develop so naturally. I wonder what this Wisconsonian would think of the current goings on in his home state.
My rating for The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a 9 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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