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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.

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. I remember thinking about this topic a lot several years ago. Only a mile or so from my apartment a woman had died at the Burger King pick-up window when a truck lost control on the adjacent highway and smashed into her car. It was baffling considering all the events that conspired together to put that woman at that place at that time, and moreso considering how “easily” it could have been avoided: if she had slept a few minutes more, got caught in a little traffic, decided to go McDonalds instead… “Why?” is just about the only question you can ask in these situations.

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    July 17, 2012
    • Yep. I had a friend who died when her Jeep suddenly caught fire while she was driving down the interstate. She had to jump out and the brain damage was fatal. Why her jeep? I’m sure everyone has a story like that.

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      July 17, 2012
  2. I’ll be very interested in your reaction to Bridge. I share the same interests as you, in theology and philosophy. Hope you come up with some answers. Everything I can conclude is that most stuff is pretty random, or at least appears that way. Only remember Melville’s warning: “Look not too long in the face of the fire, O Man!” Sometimes it’s not wise to delve to deeply into the eternal questions.

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    July 17, 2012
    • I don’t know if “wise” is the right word, but sometimes it seems fruitless.

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      July 17, 2012
  3. I’m reading the book now. Very fascinating.

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    July 17, 2012
  4. Happy Tuesday to you. Thank you for pointing out the philosphical dilemma Wilder contends with in “The Bridge…”. I’m always interested. Though I believe someone may know the answer as to “why”, I also think the person doesn’t realize that within their simplicity the answer rests only to look as pretty as a snowflake. Right now to the question “why” I say, “Why the hell not?”

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    July 17, 2012
  5. I agree with you. The book is such a simple tale and yet really probes the depths. Last year when I read it, I reread it imediately to see if his answer to “why “made sense. I think it did. Glad you are enjoying it.

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    July 17, 2012
  6. Erik S. #

    I jumped in on this book. I was describing the book to some friends today at lunch and they complained that it sounded so depressing, THEY wanted to go jump off a bridge. Having finished it, I think the book is more about love than about God’s will. But I’m curious to read what you have to say.

    Like

    July 17, 2012

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