Evan Connell, 88; his poetry, prose pierced suburbia

Evan Connell’s best-known works include “Mrs. Bridge” and “Mr. Bridge.”
Evan Connell’s best-known works include “Mrs. Bridge” and “Mr. Bridge.”

SANTA FE — Evan S. Connell, an acclaimed and adventurous author whose literary explorations ranged from Depression-era Kansas City in the twin novels ‘‘Mrs. Bridge’’ and ‘‘Mr. Bridge’’ to Custer’s last stand in the history book ‘‘Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn,’’ was found dead Thursday, his niece said. He was 88.

Mr. Connell was discovered at his Santa Fe apartment and probably died of old age, said his niece, Donna Waller of Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Little known to the general public, but regarded fondly by critics, Mr. Connell was a National Book award finalist and a finalist in 2009 for the International Man Booker Award for lifetime achievement.


He wrote 19 books, including two book-length poems, a biography of Spanish painter Francisco Goya, and a historically detailed novel about the Crusades, ‘‘Deus Lo Volt!’’

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He wrote often of seekers and doubters, world travelers through the ages, and conventional folks who secretly yearned to break out.

The author himself was blessed with a curious and unpredictable mind, his subjects including alchemy, Antarctica, Nordic tales, Marco Polo, Mayan sculpture, and the quest for gold in the New World.

His best-known books included his first novel, ‘‘Mrs. Bridge,’’ published in 1959 and nominated for a National Book Award. His historical account of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer came out in 1984 and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle prize. It also was a best-seller and adapted for a network television miniseries.

The husband and wife movie stars, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, appeared in a 1990 film, ‘‘Mr. & Mrs. Bridge,’’ based on Mr. Connell’s novels, each written from the perspective of the title character. Mr. Connell once said that the novels, published a decade apart, were semi-autobiographical. They drew on his childhood experiences growing up in an upper-class family in the Midwest before World War II.


Born in Kansas City, Mo., he was the son and grandson of physicians. His mother was the daughter of a judge.

He embarked on a literary career despite the wishes of his father, who wanted him to inherit the medical practice.

In ‘‘Mrs. Bridge’’ and ‘‘Mr. Bridge,’’ the narrative was a series of vignettes — some just a few paragraphs — that offer a portrait of the prewar lives of Walter Bridge, a workaholic lawyer, and his wife, India, who reside in the fashionable country club district of Kansas City.

While the Bridges are respected members of their class — and respectability is the dearest of goals — Mr. Connell also writes of inner doubts about their marriage, their faith, and the meaning of their lives.

As much as any work by a writer of Mr. Connell’s generation, these two novels are likely to live on as classics in our literature, wrote Gerald Shapiro in a 1987 edition of the literary journal, Ploughshares.


Mr. Connell ‘‘was a trailblazer, a troubadour, one of the first to put the literary scalpel to the suburban skin,’’ Greg Bottoms wrote in in 2000 in describing the Bridge novels.