The Bridge of San Luis Rey Toppled by Weighty Prose

The Bridge of San Luis Rey won Thornton Wilder a Pulitzer Prize in 1928. The novel has since been ignored in favor of less literary but more entertaining reading.

The story is this. In 1714, a woven-willow bridge outside Lima broke plunging five people to their deaths. A monk who saw them fall decides to prove that the collapse was not an accident but a demonstration of God’s perfect wisdom.

Brother Juniper spends six years investigating. He accumulates mountains of information, but never gets any closer to knowing why those people died rather than some other five people.

When the Inquisition burns Brother Juniper and his book, he’s not even sure of the purity of his own motives.

After Brother Juniper’s death the paths of those the victims left behind cross just as the victims’ paths had. And an observer wouldn’t be able to say what, if any, purpose their lives served.

Like Brother Juniper’s book, Wilder’s book is a report, not a memoir. He builds his characters from bits; they aren’t organic wholes. And, like Brother Juniper, Wilder tacks a vague moral on the tail end of ponderous prose.

Unlike Brother Juniper’s book, Wilder’s novel doesn’t require burning. It’s so dull, it will just crumble away.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey
By Thornton Wilder
Grosset & Dunlap, c1927
235 pages
#1 bestseller in 1928
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni
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Linda Aragoni

I'm passionate about helping people learn through the medium of nonfiction writing. Although I occasionally have an idea of my own, I mostly build education tools by recycling and repurposing other folks' ideas.

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