Hard work is the only thing of worth in this world. At least according to Walter Bridge, the focal character in Mr. Bridge by Evan S. Connell.
The story of Mr. Bridge follows Connell’s first work, Mrs. Bridge, and flips the story to instead follow the life of Mr. Bridge, a stiff-suit lawyer who plays the role of father and husband on the side. Connell mimics his style used in Mrs. Bridge and in 141 short episodes gives a window to the inner-workings of an upper middle-class ‘50s man whose hobbies include always being right, drinking daiquiris over stocks, and wearing suits as stiff and cold as his emotions.
Just as in Mrs. Bridge, this novel takes the reader through the course of Mr. Bridge’s life from the time his children are young to when they are all practically grown and he and the Mrs. are faced with old age, reflecting on their life together.
The tone that Connell holds throughout the entire novel is blunt and straightforward, as Mr. Bridge has no time or patience for dancing around a subject. Mr. Bridge is not driven by sentiment, other than the moments that he sees red and acts out toward those around him. This problem of constant frustration prevails until the end. Through the the novel, his children and wife grow and fall into their respective personalities and choices. Along the way, they found that the short-tempered, apathetic man they had to rely on their whole lives was not someone they wanted any part of. Or, perhaps they were crying out to him.
Connell has us take a look at this time in America’s history and forces readers to take it one step farther, and ask, “What is life without the love and compassion found in genuine relationships?”
This book through Mr. Bridge’s viewpoint, in contrast to Mrs. Bridge, hardly ever lingers on an instance of genuine connection before casting it off with logical explanation or dismissive thoughts. Toward the end of the book, Mr. Bridge finally starts to realize this as he finds his children pulling away from him, and his wife hanging on for dear life. But by then, he feels he is so set in his stony ways that there is no use trying to change things.
A moment when this becomes clear to Mr. Bridge is after encountering a woman in the dead of night while he and Mrs. Bridge are in Paris. He is alone, as Mrs. Bridge is asleep, and Mr. Bridge dismissed the mystery woman without a thought, and found himself caught in a web of self-reflection thinking about time wasted. “He thought of getting dressed again and going out to search for her, but now it was too late. He reflected that there were many things he had not done because for one reason or another they seemed unsafe–too many, perhaps.”
Mr. Bridge cannot find joy in art, culture, innovation, or really anything besides what has always made sense in his world of grey. Most importantly, he cannot even find true enjoyment in his marriage, something that is supposed to bring the most fulfillment and joy: knowing somebody loves you. But all his life Mr. Bridge floats on, dismissive when his wife reaches out to him. He waves off her questions and silently judges her emotional episodes, all the while never seeing the solution to her woes is the feeling of actually being wanted by the man she lives for.
One night when the Bridges are on the boat ride home from their European trip, they sit on the deck and Mr. Bridge reaches for her hand. Mrs. Bridge begins to cry from happiness, much to Mr. Bridge’s confusion, and the scene unfolds:
“Thoughtfully he contemplated the fearful blackness surrounding them, for there was no light anywhere beyond the rail of the ship, and he wondered if this was how it must be, if this was how they would end their lives, accompanying each other so closely, loving each other, touching one another with affection and sympathy, yet singularly alone.”
Because of Mr. Bridge’s inability to see past his own thinking, all he can see for his marriage is this moment of disconnection, bleak like the darkness over the railing. This moment reveals that having meaningful relationships does not mean being a financial provider, or simply putting a ring on it. It means being there, being present in the relationship as it unfolds and falling into it together.