The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

The Bridges of Madison County is the story of Robert Kincaid, a world-class photographer, and Francesca Johnson, an Iowa farm wife. Kincaid, fifty-two, is a photographer for National Geographic. A strange, almost mystical traveler of Asian deserts, distant rivers, and ancient cities, he is a man who feels out of harmony with time. Francesca Johnson, forty-five and once a young war bride from Italy, lives in the hills of south Iowa with flickering memories of her girlhood dreams. Each of them is content, yet when Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into her farm lane looking for directions, their illusions fall away, and they are joined in an experience that will haunt them forever.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“In a universe of ambiguity, this kind of certainty comes only once, and never again, no matter how many lifetimes you live.”

I don’t know if I loved this book – it made me very interested and intrigued and curious to know more but I will read it more times in the future and my feelings about it will be clearer then. It’s not a pretty story, the characters don’t do the right thing and yet it feels like they did in a way… I have a fear of a life like the one that Francesca is living and I was glad that she got to experience something extraordinary, that she can keep in her memory for the rest of her life. At first I had this feeling that I don’t get their attraction until at some point I suddenly did get it, it felt like I understood it and somehow their choices made sense to me – the reading experience became more and more intense. It didn’t matter that I already knew what happens – I saw the movie a few years back (my memory of it isn’t very clear, I think I thought it was good, that’s all). I will watch it again and see how I feel now.

I like the idea of characters finding something they gave up on or never expected in the first place. I also like the idea of characters being unexpectedly selfish for a while. Most of all, I like fiction about the choices that we shouldn’t make – there’s no better way to explore the wrong things and what-ifs.

“The old dreams were good dreams; they didn’t work out but I’m glad I had them.”

“Analysis destroys wholes. Some things, magic things, are meant to stay whole. If you look at their pieces, they go away.”

He had a certain plunging aggressiveness to him, but he seemed to be able to control it, to turn it on and then let go of it when he wanted. And that’s what had both confused and attracted her— incredible intensity, but controlled, metered, arrowlike intensity that was mixed with warmth and no hint of meanness.

Francesca supposed that, for Robert Kincaid, this was everyday talk. For her, it was the stuff of literature. People in Madison County didn’t talk this way, about these things. The talk was about weather and farm prices and new babies and funerals and government programs and athletic teams. Not about art and dreams. Not about realities that kept the music silent, the dreams in a box.

What was the barrier to freedom that had been erected out here? Not just on their farm, but in the rural culture. Maybe urban culture, for that matter. Why the walls and the fences preventing open, natural relationships between men and women? Why the lack of intimacy, the absence of eroticism?

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