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'Bridge of Sighs' stretches from Thomaston, N.Y., to Venice

Richard Russo revisits familiar territory with his tale of a couple stuck in their upstate hometown, and their friend who has fled to Italy.

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In the history of unfortunate monikers, Lou C. Lynch has suffered right up there with "A Boy Named Sue." Unlike the hero of the Johnny Cash song, Lucy, as he's been known since kindergarten, never quite learned how to brawl. He left that to his best friend, Bobby Marconi.

Actually, Lucy left almost everything to Bobby, who fled their hometown of Thomaston, N.Y., their senior year of high school and has never come back. Instead, Bobby changed his name, married multiple times, became a famous artist, and settled in Venice. Lucy never went anywhere. He married his high school sweetheart and slipped into a comfortable life managing the family's local chain of convenience stores. Now, he and Sarah are planning a trip to Italy to reunite with their friend after 40 years, and Lucy finds himself ruminating on the past.

Bridge of Sighs, Richard Russo's first novel since he won the Pulitzer Prize for "Empire Falls," features a number of the author's staples: an ailing factory town in upstate New York, warring fathers and sons, and plenty of memorably seedy types.

The book's center is Ikey Lubin's, the decrepit convenience store Lucy's father buys. Unfortunately, Lou hasn't the slightest idea what to do with his acquisition. "In the store he was like a man recently jailed without explanation and brutally interrogated on a subject of which he hadn't the slightest knowledge," Lucy writes of his dad's first months as a proprietor. Lucy's clever, tenacious mother is the one who figures out how to make Ikey's work.

Lou is a gentle optimist, baffled when a neighbor refuses to like him. Lucy idolizes him and resents his pragmatic mother. Lucy's wife, Sarah, views Ikey's as a haven as a teenager. Her artist mother abandoned her family, and her dad is an unconventional high school English teacher who, a student comments, seems sane only compared with Captain Ahab.

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