When I first read Mr. Bridge along with its companion novel Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell, I read Mrs. Bridge before Mr. Bridge. For some reason, I read them in the opposite order when re-reading them, which may have contributed to how I felt after finishing them.
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::: The Original Workaholic :::
Walter Bridge is a successful attorney, determined to leave his past behind and carve out a comfortable life for himself, his wife, India, and their three children. He goes through life (in the context of this novel, the 1930s and 1940s) with this single-minded purpose, attending to other issues only as they pop up and demand his attention, from giving his wife the attention she seems to crave to dealing with his possibly wayward eldest daughter, Ruth, to acknowledging his ever-present and hard-working secretary.
Mr. Bridge is so focused on his goals that he seems to march through life like an automaton, except for the rare glimpses we see of his personality in social situations and in dealing with his wife. Lunches out with friends and professional acquaintances showcase his prejudice against Jews and just about every other nationality other than the white-bread, white-collar world of Kansas City he lives in, and his feelings about possible desegregation at any point are made abundantly clear, from discouraging his middle child, Carolyn, from a friendship with the gardener's daughter to his dealings with the family's cook/maid, Harriet.
Every instance in his life where someone requires personal attention seems painful to him. His wife, remembering the days of their courtship, is rebuffed when she asks him to read to her again from "The Rubaiyat" of Omar Khayyam, and he also dismisses his secretary in what he feels is a fit of hysteria after she confronts him about the simple fact that he can't even remember the anniversary of the date she began working for him, a fact he that doesn't even register with him even after she confronts him.
::: The Undesirable Companion :::
Connell has written Mr. Bridge in the same concise style as its companion novel, with short chapters often less than a page long, that give the reader snapshots of a life without the entire picture. The two books together definitely make a whole, but getting through Mr. Bridge was excruciating for me. I am not sure whether the novel has become dated or if the character of Mr. Bridge is just too one-dimensional for my tastes. He's a bigot. He's conservative. He is so buttoned into his comfortable life that he can't even deviate from routine by buying a different style shirt, and becomes obsessed with an acquaintance's colored socks.
Mr. Bridge is the sort of "family man" that was stereotypical of the age: go to work, make a living, and leave everything else up to the little woman at home. Even when all signs indicate that his wife is depressed, he can't step outside his comfort zone enough to remember why he married her, or to provide her any reassurance. He believes that he loves his wife, but shows it only with increasingly extravagant gifts that she really didn't want or need.
I found the character of Mr. Bridge so completely unsympathetic that it literally took weeks of reading one or two chapters at a time to force myself through the book, and it may have contributed to the sadness I felt when reading Mrs. Bridge. I was left with the feeling that Mr. Bridge was so caught up in a role that he had long ago lost the person, trapping his entire family in a never-ending role play. I'd recommend it only as a companion to Mrs. Bridge, but other than that, it lacks the richness and complexity of its twin.
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