The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller, Book Review
When you open up The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller, there is a section called The Beginning, and as I was reading, I thought it was a true story, or a dramatization of a true story, but that is not the case. It is a work of fiction published in 1992, which achieved bestselling status, selling over 50 million copies. There are times when I wonder if something is wrong with me because you have these mega bestselling books, but when I read them, my reaction is ambivalent at best. I read The Bridges of Madison County because it was on my brother’s bookshelf, and it is a way for me to remember him. But I suppose when you think about it, people like the story because it’s about forbidden love.
Michael Johnson and his sister, Carolyn, contact a writer to schedule a meeting. At the meeting, they tell him about their mother’s relationship with Robert Kinkaid, writer and photographer. They show him Francesca’s journals, news clippings, photos and other information. The writer is intrigued by what he hears and sees, and agree to write the story. Michael and Carolyn find out about their mother’s love affair after her death, by reading through her stuff, and the letter she writes to them with an explanation. They discover that their mother had one true love that wasn’t their father, and that she sacrificed pursuing her love for Robert Kinkaid, out of duty and responsibility to them and her husband Richard.
Back in the summer of 1965, nearly 25 years earlier, Robert Kinkaid gets an assignment from National Geographic to photograph seven covered bridges in Madison County. Although Madison County is far away from Bellingham, Washington, the photographer decides to drive his truck, Harry. For a photographer, this is an excellent way to discover treasures worth capturing with film. When he arrives in Madison County, he asks someone at the gas station for directions to the seven covered bridges, and Robert easily finds six of them, but is having a difficult time locating Roseman Bridge. He has a policy that he will ask three times for directions, but in this case, he thinks that twice will be enough.
Robert comes across a farm and decides to drive in to get directions, and this is the first time he meets Francesca Johnson. When he sees her, something stirs inside of him. She walks out to him barefoot, to find out what he needs, and not only does she give him the instructions to get to the seventh bridge, but offers to show him where it is. Being this forward is not Francesca’s usual behavior. When they get to the covered bridge, Robert scopes it out to determine where he’ll get the best shots the next morning. He drives Francesca home and she invites him into her home for a cool drink. That week, her family is away at the Illinois State Fair so Carolyn can exhibit her steer.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Francesca is lonely and feeling somewhat neglected. She is in a too comfortable place in her marriage, which can be very problematic for marriages. Her husband is resistant to change, killing the light inside of her slowly. Hailing from Naples to Madison County, her life changed radically, with many unrealized dreams. Robert unleashes the fire and passion within this lonely housewife. It is a pleasure for her to speak to the photographer about cultural things, not topics for discussion in Madison County.
Both Robert and Francesca feel the tug of attraction. After having supper, drinking brandy, and much conversation, he leaves for his motel. After thinking about it, the lonely housewife wants to see the intriguing photographer again, so she drives to Roseman Bridge, and tacks on a message hoping that he will see it. In the message, Francesca invites Robert to dinner again. Next morning, through the viewfinder, he spots the white paper, which he removes and places into his pocket, focusing on capturing the scenes before him while the light is right. Later he reads the note, calling Francesca to accept the dinner invitation. The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller covers the four days that Robert Kinkaid and Francesca Johnson share. The two realize that each is what the other is looking for, but in the end, Francesca decides that she has to sacrifice her love and happiness for her family, and she does so for practical reasons such as not wanting to hurt them or making them the laughing stock in the area because she goes off with the long-haired photographer – the hippie.
In the novel, there is a lot of information about photography, equipment, and setting up shots and that can be expected because one of the main characters is a photographer. After Richard dies, at one point, Francesca tries to find Robert, but none of his contact details work. She gets a letter from his lawyer when he dies, and he will the few things that mattered the most to him. On her birthday each year, Francesca reads the one letter she received from Robert, with a captivating photo he took of her, and that’s a ritual for her. When she dies, Michael and Carolyn read the letter their mother leaves for them. It’s quite poignant how the two children drink the last of the brandy that Francesca shared with Robert nearly 25 years before.
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller is a nice story if you like that sort of thing, but I am feeling ambivalent and cannot say if I enjoyed the book. We all have longings, and I think the book is popular because the story gives voice to those longings.
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Source of covered bridge is Pixabay!