September 11 & “The Bridge Of San Luis Rey”
“It is interesting, therefore, and possibly useful to consider [The Bridge of San Luis Rey] in the long and (at the time of this writing) still darkening shadow of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001.”
That’s a quote from Russell Banks in the foreword to The Bridge.
In its attempt to understand the seeming randomness of tragedy, this novel is very relevant to the events of September 11, 2001 in the United States. As I mentioned in my preview to The Bridge, the novel experienced a rebirth of sorts after it was quoted by Tony Blair during the September 11 memorial service.
One thing I’m learning about The Bridge of San Luis Rey: It’s a novel that attempts to answer the question “Why?”
Why what? A bridge that stood for 500 years collapses in mere seconds, sending 5 people to their death—why did fate bring those people together at that time? Why did the 2,000+ people who passed on 9/11 die—and why wasn’t it someone else? Why do random, seemingly senseless tragedies strike some people while others live long, tragedy-free lives?
Again, back to Russell Banks’ foreword:
The underlying assumption of the novel is that any one of us could have been on that bridge when it collapsed and threw five people into the abyss.
As a Christian and a guy who loves to think about theology and philosophy, I must say this novel has one of the more fascinating premises of any I’ve encountered so far in 101 Books. The question Thornton Wilder attempts to answer is: “Is there a direction and meaning in lives beyond the individual’s own will?”
It’s almost silly to try and address a topic so large in a short 300-word blog post, but maybe it will be something I can touch on when I review this short novel soon. This is certainly one of the more heavy novels from the list. What makes it all the more interesting is Wilder’s ability to tackle this subject in so short a space–the novel is hardly more than 100 pages.
If you’re looking for a short, highly-regarded novel to read, join me on this one. Should be good.