Evan S. Connell, dead at 88. He’ll always be best known for his debut novel, Mrs. Bridge (1959) and its companion volume, Mr. Bridge (1969), but he had what may have been the most varied and wide-ranging body of work of any American writer: historical novels about the Crusades (Deus Lo Volt!) and Custer at Little Big Horn (Son of the Morning Star), poetry (Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel), a biography of Francisco Goya, and historical essays (The White Lantern, A Long Desire). He often wrote about obsessives: the frustrated junior clerk in The Diary of a Rapist, the fixated collector of The Connoisseur, the eccentric visionaries covered in the historical essays (collected in The Aztec Treasure House).
Connell enjoyed a late-career burst of success when Son of the Morning Star, published in 1984, became a surprise bestseller and basis for a TV movie. A few years later, the Bridge novels were adapted for film as Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. The film is far from bad, but the Merchant Ivory team cast a far more forgiving eye on the couple, especially Walter Bridge, whose prejudices and failings were presented in a far nicer light than Connell’s novels. Taken as a pair, the Bridge novels are a masterful look at white middle-class life between the wars.
Given the author’s interest in the mania for acqusition and collection, it was only appropriate that the two Bridge novels be turned into a very clever literary collectible (pictured above) at a price that would discourage all but the most obsessive collectors. I’m sure Connell understood the impulse.