Mr. Bridge / Evan S. Connell

Evan Connell wrote the companion piece to this book, Mrs. Bridge, in 1959. Mr. Bridge followed a decade later. While the world had greatly changed by the time this second book was published, Mr. Bridge represents an accurate depiction of many of the men I knew from my father’s generation. The book is set chronologically from the late 1920s to the beginning of World War II. While world events are mentioned, the story focuses mostly on Mr. Bridge’s thoughts in regards to his family, social events, and work life.

In a diary-like format, the book chronicles fragments of the life of this successful Kansas City lawyer. To call Mr. Bridge uptight would be an understatement. He views the world only in black and white, with a blunt sensibility. Clearly, he is an example of the WASPish America of the time.

Mr. Bridge inhabits a world where he expects his wife and children to obey him without question. As a white male, the rules that govern the separation of the races must be followed to the letter. While he claims to have Jewish friends, his anti-Semitism is evident as well. In other words, he is a conservative with a capital C. Relying on his brain rather than his heart, he often reacts to events without a sense of kindness or sensitivity. A disciplined, orderly life is what he most cherishes.

And yet, though he believes he is the one in charge of his family’s destiny, the world around him is rapidly changing without his consent. This is shown in his three children as they grow into young adulthood. A workaholic, he has substituted material goods as his expression of affection for them. When, as teenagers, they begin to question his beliefs, he is taken by surprise. I do not mean to imply that Mr. Bridge is a man without feelings. He loves his family dearly; he is doing what he thinks is proper and best for all concerned. And there are occasions when he shows unexpected acts of compassion and moments of introspection. I often found myself identifying with Mr. Bridge, seeing in him glimpses of my own father, as well as of myself.

A great piece of social realism, the novel encapsulates the period between two World Wars in a marvelous fashion. It reveals the void in Mr. Bridge’s life, despite his material assets. And yet, he is not presented as a pitiful figure. His failings are similar to ones we all share. Connell might have meant Mr. Bridge to be a caricature, but the picture is not a mean-spirited one. Ultimately, he carries both the everyday good and bad found in all of us.

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