Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo Vintage, HK$120 Richard Russo is probably best known for Empire Falls, his epic novel of a small American town in decline, which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize. For my money, however, he is at his best when he is at his funniest, in his brilliant 'damaged academics' campus yarn, Straight Man, or his affectionate but hilarious Nobody's Fool. Bridge of Sighs, his seventh novel, tells the story of two boys growing up during the 1960s in Thomaston, a typically Russoian town in upstate New York. One, Lou C. Lynch ('Lucy') is bullied and prone to blackouts and ends up staying put. The other, Bobby Marconi, is a rebel who swaps Thomaston for Italy and becomes a painter better known as Robert Noonan. In their teenage years, the pair formed an amiable menage a trois with Sarah Berg, who marries Lou. Forty years later the three plan a reunion in Venice, which promises to open more than one can of worms. Russo writes with effortless grace. His elegant prose, social awareness and expansive cast of characters suggest him as a laid-back Yankee heir of Charles Dickens. Race is at the heart of this story, but so too are identity, ageing and 21st-century America. But like Dickens, Russo is also a great entertainer, able to make you laugh, think and cry - almost in a sentence.