“I shall spare you Brother Juniper’s generalizations. They are always with us. He thought he saw in the same accident the wicked visited by destruction and the good called early to Heaven. He thought he saw pride and wealth confounded as an object lesson to the world, and he thought he saw humility crowned and rewarded for the edification of the city. But Brother Juniper was not satisfied with his reasons. It was just possible that the Marquesa de Montemayor was not a monster of avarice, and Uncle Pio of self-indulgence.”
An historic rope bridge collapses in Lima, Peru, in 1714, dashing 5 people to their death in the gulf below. Brother Juniper happens to witness this tragedy, and tries to make sense of God’s selection of these particular 5 people to die. He wants to prove the existence of God to the doubtful in his community by making sense of the senseless. He attempts to divine the histories and worth of the 5 who were killed, hoping to find justification for his cause. The Bridge of San Luis Rey then tells us the stories of those who were killed, so we can determine for ourselves whether theirs were lives well lived and pious, or not.
Thorton Wilder’s language is aloof and beautiful, and the style of the writing is as much the star of the book as the story, if not more so. The Bridge of San Luis Rey is well worth re-reading, as the depth and quality of the writing will reveal more on subsequent readings, I’m sure.
I read The Bridge of San Luis Rey for the Book Awards Reading Challenge.