Book Review: “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” by Thornton Wilder

Sorry for the silence, readers.  I don’t have any real excuse, but I was keeping busy.  During my days away from the blogosphere, I did read an excellent book: Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey.  As brief as it is, I can’t really discuss it without spoiling, so if you’d like to remain in the dark, just know that I highly recommend it and move on.

Wilder’s book adopts the clever conceit of claiming to undiscovered text.  The brief introductory chapter tells us that what follows is the writings of one Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk in early eighteenth century Peru, who witnesses a tragic accident along the titular bridge.  So disturbed by the tragedy, Juniper undertakes a controversial quest, determined to ascertain whether the lives lost that day really deserved the casual termination they received from their Creator.  His studies of the victims’ lives, individually and in concert, read as parables.  Juniper’s attempt to scientifically determine the value of a life ends up showing us how to value our lives.

San Luis Rey may sound preachy, but it is so exquisitely written that you find yourself enjoying the experience too much to protest its vaguely liturgical tone.   Wilder’s command of language is exceptional.  His prose is delicately, deliciously crafted.  He must truly be one of the great American wordsmiths.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a beautiful, accomplished, intriguing, surprising, and challenging work.  And it’s only 107 pages long.  You could read it twice in a weekend; in fact, I’d encourage you to.

~ T


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