MR BRIDGE by Evan S. Connell contains the best description of the microcosm of upper middle class family life (family life in general really) I’ve ever read. The period here is the 1930’s but the description so universal it could be anywhere and it could be any family.
The Bridges who reside in Kansas City, Kansas, the father Walter, a lawyer, whose perspective this story is told through, his wife India a housewife and their three children promiscuous and arty Ruth, hard working and athletic Carolyn, and rebellious slacker Douglas were actually the subject of an earlier book by Connell entitled MRS. BRIDGE which told their life from the viewpoint of India Bridge. I’ve not read that book but definitely plan to.
MR. BRIDGE filters the events that occur through Mr Bridge’s button down point of view. His middle of the road conservatism more status quo than embracing any particular philosophy is used to show race relations, anti-Semitism, women’s rights and a host of other issues. This device works splendidly and the reader sees both a clear picture of how things were at that time in US history and how society would make up its mind about these issues in the years to come. Mr Bridge’s changing opinion on Nazi Germany and the upcoming world war is also shown and I think reflective of a certain type of lazy racist thinking at the time influenced also by negative feelings about the US’s involvement in WWI and the resulting isolationist strain of thought.
Also how Mr Bridge views his family is brutally honest. How he takes his wife for granted and how he harbours incestuous feelings for Ruth. The scene where he finds Ruth having sex with a beau on the living room couch and then thinks about her afterwards is grotesque but also shows a deeply psychological understanding of the father/daughter relationship-how complex it is. His attempts at discipline particularly with his son Douglas are equally well thought out and shown as largely awkward and failed.
Many of the side characters (friends, neighbors etc.) are quite well developed too. Connell has a way of writing that is very easy to read - short matter of fact sentences, unironic thought processes described honestly, quick scalpel-like descriptions. A very complete novel wanting for nothing – More Connell hopefully to be read in the future.