Mrs. Bridge, the novel by Evan S. Connell that was originally published in 1959, is one of those books that writers like to reference during constant brief moments of insecurity at literary-minded social gatherings. “Oh, Mrs. Bridge,” we’ll say casually, leaning on a folding chair until we knock it over and send our plate of cheese flying, “it’s really a book for writers, don’t you think?” And when our conversation mate expresses a lack of familiarity with Mrs. Bridge and/or tries to escape from our clutches, we will say, louder, “IT’S TOO BAD SO FEW PEOPLE HAVE READ IT, BECAUSE IT’S QUITE BRILLIANT.” Saying things like this is always super patronizing clever, because it implies our intellectual superiority while still remaining topically relevant. Pay attention when you talk to writers, because I we do this all the time. I am fucking brilliant.
Anyway, the reason Mrs. Bridge falls into this category is because, structurally, it was completely groundbreaking. Nowadays, fragmented or collage-style literature (motto: Who Gives A Shit About Transitions?) has vomited all over mainstream book culture, but back when Mrs. Bridge came out alongside Nabokov, Pasternak, and Lady Chatterly’s Lover, reviewers were dismissive of Connell’s brief vignettes. “Unconvincing,” The New York Times reviewer sniffed. And then Connell found this reviewer guy and was like, “Is this convincing enough for you?” and punched him in the face, but don’t quote me on that last part, because I just made it up.
The point here is that the establishment takes a while to catch up to innovation; just consider the absurd fact that DFW never won the Pulitzer. Connell’s doing a lot of cool technical stuff in Mrs. Bridge—rotating POV, keeping most chapters to well under a page, leaping freely through time—but it took some time for people to catch on to his strategy. This is why you should always believe the bumper sticker that says, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.” Duh, I know Connell isn’t a woman, but if he had conformed this novel to a traditional narrative arc it probably would have been long forgotten by now.
But besides the awesome-jawsome impressive formal play (one of my margin notes says, “did a wedding really just take place in THREE SENTENCES?”), my favorite thing about reading Mrs. Bridge is the warmth that develops between the reader and the characters. And this warmth is rather surprising, because—and I’m not going to beat around the bush here—Mrs. Bridge is kind of an asshole. She’s all like, “I don’t want my kids playing with black kids” and “Don’t call the cleaning woman a lady because ladies are people like my country club friends,” and yet you can’t help but feel this unbelievable tenderness toward her. I’m pretty sure the tenderness evolves for two reasons. One, the structure of the book mimics real life, and as we watch Mrs. Bridge and her family evolve and age, we see the burdens pile up on her, and we recognize her nostalgia for a simpler past as our own. And two, Connell is a supremely nonjudgmental and indeed compassionate narrator. Nowadays a novel like this would probably smack of irony; the tone would be something like “bwa ha ha, aren’t rich people stupid?” But Connell has no interest in irony. His interest is in observing these characters as they are and as their life unfolds.
So, the moral of today’s story is that you should probably pick up a copy of Mrs. Bridge soon, and you probably shouldn’t just watch the movie instead, because the movie sucks. And you should probably head to my Pinterest board for more Mrs. Bridge inspiration, because making a Pinterest board for obsessively materialistic characters is maybe the funnest thing ever. And in good time, young grasshopper, you can be as awesome at parties as I am.