Santa Fe, New Mexico – Evan S. Connell Jr., the author and poet who penned the bestselling novels Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969), as well as a landmark biography on General George Custer, has died. He was 88.
Connell was found dead at his home in Santa Fe on Thursday. Niece Donna Waller revealed that the cause was “just old age.” The writer had been suffering poor health in recent years.
Described as “a writer of fine style and amazing variety” by American poet Dorothy Parker, Evan Connell will best be remembered for his twin novels Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge, two gently satirical depictions of a bland, conventional middle-class couple living in Kansas from the 1920s to the 1940s. The books focus on the Bridges, who attempt to meet the expectations of wider society by being good parents, but are unable to overcome the emotional repression that exists between the members of their family.
Connell, who novelist Joyce Carol Oates called “one of our most interesting and intelligent American writers”, also wrote Son of the Morning Star (1984), a biography of General Custer that achieved the uncommon feat of being both a bestseller and a critical darling. In 1991, the book was adapted as a television miniseries in 1991 that would go on to win four Emmy Awards.
Elsewhere in Evan Connell’s ouevre is his 1960 novel The Patriot, the story of a 17-year-old who enters naval aviation school during the Second World War. The teen struggles with the intense reality of training and the prospect of his failing, and attempts to communicate his experience to his father, who rebuffs the youngster.
By the time Connell passed away, he had published twenty books, ranging from poetry collections to compilations of short stories and essays. His final book was the short story collection Lost in Uttar Pradesh (2008).
Connell’s work was largely semi-autobiographical and set in Connell’s hometown of Kansas City. Born in 1924, Connell was always told that he would followin the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who were both physicians. When he dropped out of college partway through his studies in 1943, Connell recalled that his father, “a rather severe man”, was not pleased:
“He was concerned that I would never be able to make a living at [writing]. It was a justifiable concern, I think. I grew up in a home where there was no music, no interest in any of the arts.”
An admirer of women who never married, Connell won several honors for lifetime achievement in his career. In 2000, he was awarded the $100,000 Lannan Literary Award.
Evan S. Connell Jr. is survived by a sister, Barbara Zimmermann, a nephew, and two nieces.