The Big Read Blog (Archive)


February 18, 2010
Washington, DC


"Bridge over railway tracks" by Rob Patrick from Flickr ( / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In his 1991 novel The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks explores how a tragic schoolbus accident affects the lives of the survivors.  In this excerpt from an interview with the NEA, Banks discusses one of the central questions his novel shares in common with Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

[Wilder wrote,] "Some say that we shall never know and to the gods we are like the flies that the boys kill on a summer day, and some say, on the contrary, that the very sparrows do not lose a feather that has not been brushed way by the finger of God." That nails the question that the book is trying to examine. For me, one of the beauties of the book--- and it's the reason perhaps that it lasts and is so universal---is that it doesn't really answer that question. It pursues that question. It tries to penetrate that question to the bottom of the mystery that it raises and,  ultimately, despairs of an answer, I think. . . But it allows us finally to know that that's the question which defines us in many ways as human beings. I don't think any other species asks that question of itself and of its lives. And if you don't ask that question then you're not dealing with the mystery of existence, of human existence.

Hear more from Banks and others on Thornton Wilder and his work on The Big Read audio guide for The Bridge of San Luis Rey. And don't forget to visit The Big Read calendar to find a Big Read taking place near you.

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