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This report is taken from PN Review 144, Volume 28 Number 4, March - April 2002.

Bridge Passages Lawrence Sail

The murderous attack on the World Trade Center and the New York air crash a month later, though very different in nature, both raise obvious ontological, even theological issues of a kind which often surface in the wake of catastrophe, whatever its cause. Justice; mercy; providence; free will; evil: when the everyday is torn apart, the great abstractions soon show. There is nothing new about this, as Voltaire's stories constantly remind us, with their nagging attempts to find a tenable perspective short of despair which could account for a world in which natural disasters, inhumanity and futile sacrifice seem more the rule than the exception. More recently, Thornton Wilder's short novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, though it may have lost something of the renown that it enjoyed in the years following its publication seventy-five years ago, addresses the same questions, as the titles of its first and last parts signal - 'Perhaps an Accident' and 'Perhaps an Intention'. The opening sentence of the book plainly describes the incident in question: 'On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travellers into the gulf below.' Brother Juniper, a 'little red-haired Franciscan from Northern Italy [who] happened to be in Peru converting the Indians', comes to the conclusion that 'if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, ...

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