Max Boot’s book was fine, but The Bridge of San Luis Rey was a lovely palate cleanser after a dense tome on warfare—not simply for its slender page count, but for the spare, breathy urgency of its prose. Wilder wields a fleet style that I admire in no small part because I just can’t do it. His writing isn’t colloquial, but it gains its literary sheen without becoming comma-clotted and dense. It sits at the opposite end of a spectrum counterbalanced by Thomas Wolfe and WIlliam Faulkner, and while I can rival neither of those masters, I am much more an eager (if incompetent) disciple at their feet. With Wilder, I don’t even know where to start.
The book is interesting in structure as well as style, a quasi-religious meditation on causality and faith. The eponymous bridge lasts barely an instant, collapsing in the very first sentence only to be raised repeatedly through jaunts backwards in time. Five people fall to their death while attempting to cross it, and a devout friar named Brother Juniper seeks out every detail of their life in hopes of summising some grander purpose that will prove the existence of God.
Most of what follows is a biography of the five ill-fated individuals, with particular focus on three of them: the Marquesa de Montemayor, an epistolary savant pining after her indifferent daughter; Estaban, a man grieving his lost twin brother; and Uncle Pio, an avuncular figure managing a tempermental actress. Their stories intersect in different ways, some of which seem to defy their own causality (Im not sure if this is a deliberate effect, an error on Wilder’s part, or simply a result of my own misreading). Each chapter inevitably ends with the bridge’s collapse, lending a strange air of fatalism to the proceedings.
A great book. I’ll read more from him one day.