Like most of Russo’s fiction, Bridge of Sighs is set in a small New England town, this one called Thomaston. Thomaston, in the early stages of this story, is home to a tannery. Thomaston was a factory town, dependent on the large factory to provide them with jobs. The residents refer to the local waterway that runs through their town as a “rainbow river” because colors from the factory paint their river with dyes. No thought was given to the underlying threats of toxic chemicals and the resultant health problems until the townspeople begin to develop unusually high incidences of cancer. When investigative health officials publish their studies’ results, the findings are grim: the town’s water and soil polluted; residents soon learn that the factory is shutting down. Homes go quickly on sale, but buyers are hard to find. No one wants to move into a dying town.
Other economic pressures in this town are represented by the changing times, which is somewhere around the early 1950s. Lucy Lynch is a young boy. Lucy’s father, called Big Lou, is a milkman, delivering milk in glass bottles to the doorsteps of customers around Thomaston. But when a large grocery store opens in town, Big Lou is soon out of a job. Many mom-and-pop markets around town are also forced to close shop.
Thomaston begins to deteriorate. Long-time residents begin moving out en masse. Would-be new residents, learning about the pollution and the lack of financial opportunity, do not replace them. Russo’s story focuses, for the most part, on what happens to the people who choose to stay in the dying town.
Another aspect of the setting is the town’s rather strict division along class lines. Class is defined in this situation largely by economics, with some reflection on race and ethnicity. Education, and the lack of it, plays a minor role. What is called “Thomaston’s West End” is the rough side of town and also the most polluted....
(The entire section is 721 words.)