The Bridge of San Luis Rey
By: Thornton Wilder
Albert & Charles Boni, Inc., 1927
The story begins with the collapse of an old Incan rope bridge over a canyon in Peru. Five people die, one person witnesses the event. That one person is Brother Juniper, a friar. Brother Juniper decides that there must be a reason that each person was on this particular bridge at this particular time, which must have been destined as the time for each of their deaths, and sets out to probe all possible nooks and crannies of their lives to determine what that reason might be.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey reads almost like a parable. Brother Juniper examines each life lost on the Bridge for any signs that would give good reason for that individual to be removed from this earth at that time. I won't go into the details of the lives so as not to give away exactly who dies, but it is true that each of the lives are connected to the others in some way. There is one woman who connects them all and, ironically, her life is not taken.
The question Brother Juniper seeks to answer is an age-old question that inevitably appears when tragedy strikes. "Why?" Was that person just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Is there a "destiny" on each of our lives that determines precisely when we will die? Why does it appear so unfair when the seemingly undeserving suffer? I believe that we often just have to place our trust in God at such times, knowing that we won't always have answers.
Thornton's book is very short (I think I read it in 3 hours) and easy to read. I recommend you read it to see what you think about his conclusions on why tragedies might inexplicably strike.