Mr. Bridge – Evan S. Connell (1969)

After having read and enjoyed “Mrs. Bridge”, I tracked down through ILL the companion novel (written about ten years later, but set at the same time) called “Mr. Bridge”, which was about their shared life, this time from the perspective of Mrs. Bridge’s husband, Walter. Mrs. Bridge’s life had described a fragile and sheltered life; what would Mr. Bridge’s view show?

Just as Mrs. Bridge is a step removed from enjoying her life, so is her husband. (First names are seldom used to enhance the separation between the two and the rest of the family, town, and society in general.). This novel is a striking portrait of a strait-laced man, bound by the conventions of the day and struggling to do what he thinks is the Right Thing to Do. It also demonstrates the ravine between both of the parents with each other and with their kids, and how tricky it must have been for adults who were raised believing they had to conform to societal standards, and their offspring who believed the exact opposite.

Set in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Mr. Bridge is an upper middle-class attorney whose life revolves around his office in the belief that it is he who keeps the family together. Admittedly, he is the sole provider (as was the trend at the time), but he seems to take it to the next level adding much unnecessary pressure to their lives, even though what his family would like most would be more time with him and less time at the office.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Bridge are obsessed with fitting in with their friends and community in Kansas City, and Connell does a good job of portraying how suffocating it must have been for families like this, struggling to fit into the image of what they had been taught, whilst trying to balance what the future was to bring. Described as a “saga of sweet joylessness and blunted sensibility”, this novel really communicates how stifling life must have been for some people during this time of cookie-cutter expectations about life and family.

Having first read “Mrs. Bridge” and seen her point of view, I found it to be quite fascinating to see the point of view from the husband’s eyes and this helped to explain some of the puzzling (to Mrs. Bridge) choices that he made over the years. Both are trying their best to do what is expected of them (as parents, as wives and husbands), but instead of working to realize their own dreams, they are working to realize their vague idea of the American Dream. This was a time of Tupperware, of factories making the exact same item over and over again, and it was customary for families to try their hardest to fit in with these ideals.

Both parents work hard to try to be the best parents they can be for their children, but as the offspring enter teenhood and beyond (and as the world changes during the early 1960’s), the parents’ best efforts are wasted as neither kids not adults can understand each other. Both the Bridges try really hard, but they cannot comprehend why their now grown-up kids don’t want to fit into the societal molds that are expected of them. Both the parents were happy-ish to do that – why not their kids?

A good read. Is the matching film any good?

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