Evan S. Connell Warms The Cockles of My Heart

April 19th, 2010

I read an article in the KC Star this weekend about Evan S. Connell.  Mr. Connell is the author of two of my favorite books - Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge.  A few years ago, I wrote a post about these two books and the Merchant Ivory film they inspired,  Mr. and Mrs, Bridge starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.   This book is set and was also filmed in the gorgeous Mission Hills district of Kansas City.  The article I read celebrated the fifty year anniversary of Connell’s first and most famous book – Mrs Bridge.  It is a rare privilege for an author to live to see the fifty year anniversary of one of their own books – especially one that is as well known and loved as Mrs. Bridge.   Connell was interviewed about his acheivement.  I especially loved his response to the following question.

The question – Each of the three Bridge children chose very separate lives. I was curious if you ever considered giving one of them their own book?

The answer  - I did. After I finished the two books about the parents, I kept considering that, and I decided the eldest of the three, Ruth, would be a good subject. I started writing a novel about her in the same pattern, the same form, a collection of very brief chapters, but then it began to seem contrived or manufactured somewhat. I didn’t want to do that, so I stopped. I guess I’d written most of what I knew about that family, and so I decided to let it go.

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Connell’s  response meant the world to me.  Why?  Because at the pinnacle of success, after writing two critically acclaimed books, after reaching a point in his career that every writer dreams of and being flush with the young bloom of early success, he was teetering on the edge.  He could jump off into another book about characters that had already proven themselves to be saleable and cash in on another marketable book, but he didn’t.  Because to Connell “it seemed contrived or manufactured”. The story had lost it’s authenticity for him.  He had begun to feel like a factory churning out predictable prose, rather than an artist in search of a compelling story.

It’s not easy to leave the safety of success and go in search of something new.  It’s rarer still to hear of a successful writer speak of rejecting the tried and true and cast off for something that feels more authentic.  I was greatly relieved to read of his decision and found it immensely comforting.  

…Although I reluctantly admit that I loved the stories of Mr and Mrs Bridge so much that I wouldn’t mind too terribly if Connell changed his mind and decided to write another book about the Bridge family anyway!

Comments

  • Honest and (I don’t know, is ethical the word?) authors are jewels, aren’t they? It breaks our hearts to “lose” the characters, but at the same, we are all the better for it.

    Now, I’m off to Netflix. ‘Cuz I’m in the mood for some young Paul Newman.

  • km:

    I wish some of the Pride and Prejudice , where are they now? authors didn’t pick up their pens to imagine Mr. Darcy’s daughters etc. I haven’t read a good one yet. His restraint is admirable.

    I’m reading Lies My History Teacher told me and thoroughly enjoying it. It’s worth checking out of the library.

  • I’m off to Amazon to download the samples of these onto my kindle right now. I’m in the throes of the Steig Larsson trilogy right now but will check these out as soon as possible.

  • Spinny:

    That is artistic integrity that you don’t often see and I agree that it would be a hard choice. I admire an author who can stick to it.

    As much as I loved the Harry Potter series, I sincerely hope JK Rowling doesn’t write any sequels. I would be annoyed if she ruined the storyline I’ve concocted in my head about the lives of Harry & Ginny and Ron & Hermione.

    But what I really hate, with the fire of a thousand burning suns, is when another author writes sequels to a novel that is not their own. I steadfastly refuse to read any and all sequels to Pride and Prejudice, even though it is probably my favorite novel.

  • I was working in Downtown KCMO when they were filming Mr & Mrs Bridge here. They had trailers set up at 10th & Main for a few days while they were filming interior and exterior shots at the old 1st National Bank building, now the Downtown branch of the KC public library. I saw Paul Newman from afar, and even at a distance, he was so handsome! I’ve seen the movie several times, but have never got around to reading the books. I need to correct that!

    I admire Mr. Connell’s decision not to make a Bridge family ‘franchise’ for lack of a better word. There are a lot of writers who would have taken the easy road with the sure paycheck.

  • I was working in Downtown KCMO when they were filming Mr & Mrs Bridge here. They had trailers set up at 10th & Main for a few days while they were filming interior and exterior shots at the old 1st National Bank building, now the Downtown branch of the KC public library. I saw Paul Newman from afar, and even at a distance, he was so handsome! I’ve seen the movie several times, but have never got around to reading the books. I need to correct that!

    I admire Mr. Connell’s decision not to make a Bridge family ‘franchise’ for lack of a better word. There are a lot of writers who would have taken the easy road with the sure paycheck.

  • LucyGolden:

    I’ve not read the books, nor have I seen the movie, but now I’m intrigued!

    I just finished “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein, so I’m looking for a new good read. Off to the bookstore I go!

    Thanks for the recommendation, Rechelle!

  • Another Lee:

    @LucyGolden – I loved “The Art of Racing in the Rain”! Did you read “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle?”

  • OpenMind:

    Kelley, I was down there then, too, working at the KC library! I kept hoping for a sighting, but it never happened. Over one of those weekends, I was cooking for a dinner party and sent my husband to the old Sun Fresh in Westwood for peas. He came back honestly flushed and gaga – he met Paul Newman at that little store! Paul nodded to him in the aisle. He said all the cashiers were speechless and slack-jawed. Why, oh why did I have to send my husband out for the peas?!?!? Argh. And bdaiss, he was about 65 then, so “young” isn’t quite apt… but gosh, he was still so gorgeous!
    Spinny, I didn’t even really like the final HP book — I didn’t like seeing them in the future in print — I wanted it to stay in my head. (Of course, I didn’t know that until I read it…)

  • Spinny:

    OpenMind, I choose to ignore the epilogue and everything she has said about the characters since. I also wanted it left to my imagination. :-)

  • LucyGolden:

    @Another Lee (the name of my hubby by the way), no I haven’t read “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.” It’s on my list now, though! Another with a dog theme, “The Dogs of Babel” is terrific, too.

  • Action Squirrel:

    Just out of curiosity, do you think of yourself as a writer of fiction more than as a memoirist or, I don’t know, reporter or diarist? Commentator? Where does your art lie, exactly?

  • You know, reading this I tend to agree with you. But I am a huge fan of Karin Slaughter and when she killed off a major character, I was totally pissed off. She said basically the same thing–she thought the character had lived its whole life, and this was just what happened. I felt kind of betrayed, though. I, as a reader, didn’t think the character should have met that end. I guess she’s the author so she knows better than I do, but I really felt almost like Annie Wilkes in Misery. I thought Karin Slaughter was a cockadoodie dirty bird when I finished the book, and I’m still kind of mad at her and reluctant to read another of her books. Though, last week at the library, I got a book in the series I had missed and I read it and loved it. I respect that she thought the character was ready for that fate, but it just made me really sad. And she can’t even say that it was because she didn’t care about the money–she kept on writing books and started a new series. I wonder if she didn’t just want to kill the character and get on with the new ones .

    And now I am talking crazy on the internet. Great.

  • Alison of a gun – welcome to the internet world of crazy. You are not alone.

  • kathy:

    I read both of these books and thought they were really good and thought provoking. Mr. Connell also wrote Son of the Morning Star, which was terrific! The best book ever on Custer’s last stand.

  • JennyME:

    These are two of my all-time favorite books as well. Evan S. Connell is an amazing writer, and how can you not love his philosophy of writing whatever the eff he wants? I recently got a copy of Deus Lo Volt! and am trying to make my way through it–it’s difficult, hilarious, and fascinating.