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The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller

Mixed feelings!

The Bridges of Madison CountyI read such vitriolic reviews of this book on Goodreads, I almost abandoned the thought of reading it! That’s another book I’ve read only because it’s a book club selection, like last week’s Dongri to Dubai. It had totally fallen off my book radar and if I ever came across a reference (which I haven’t in decades), I would automatically have thought of the movie instead of the book which is really rare for me!

I remember watching the movie vaguely…way back when I was too young to understand much of what this book is about or take it seriously. I love Streep although not Eastwood so much, but I see now how this was a perfect casting coup. Who better than Eastwood to play ‘The Last Cowboy’ living in ‘Dimension Z’? Who better than the phenomenal Streep to play the ‘regular housewife’ turned guilty adulteress confronted with a life-changing choice? I don’t remember much about the movie but I’m keen on seeing it again now that I’m closer to Francesca – in age if not in sentiment! I think it will be easier now to be non-judgmental and non-dismissive of what is essentially the story of a 4-day extra-marital affair masquerading as ‘true-love’. I use the word ‘masquerade’ intentionally here because there in lies my conflict. ‘To believe or not to believe.’ – That is the question.

I can’t quite seem to make up my mind, probably because I sense that Waller can’t either. There are times when I want to believe that yes Francesca & Robert Kincaid were indeed star-crossed lovers in the traditional sense, where everything was right except the timing and yet…and yet something keeps me from taking that final leap of faith. Perhaps because most of the time, it seems like Waller wrote a screenplay instead of a story – a collation of scenes that he imagined would look great on film; probably even imagined Streep and Eastwood as Francesca & Robert (certainly Kincaid & Eastwood appear to be cut from the same cloth!), and that’s when everything falls apart and seems pretentious, calculated, and unreal – the premise, the dialogue, the eventual sacrifice…all of it inevitably feels contrived and fake. If what Waller was aiming for is confusion, well he’s hit the nail dead centre, at least for me! Perhaps he was – he does tell us to approach the story by suspending disbelief in the very first chapter, which brings me to my next point.

For some reason I thought this was based on a true story, which for me would have made it believable, because I truly do believe in the ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ line. Really. I’ve lived it. So the fact that this is completely fictional upset me in a visceral way, which should be a sure sign that I loved the book right? More confusion! So here’s the thing then – I liked the thought of Robert Kincaid – most women would I think – he came across as the perfect balance of sensitivity and respect – a guy with not only all the right answers but more importantly asking all the right questions! A rare find indeed, given the times we live in! Perhaps that’s why he felt a touch unreal – too good to be true. Francesa in contrast felt ‘real’ – I could understand her as a woman, lonely, depressed perhaps, disappointed, wondering about her life and the choices she’s made – that’s real. I think what really disturbs me is that while I can understand why Francesca would have an affair (it seems in character), I cannot for the life of me understand why Robert would. He seems perfectly happy up until that point in his own self-contained way and Waller shows me nothing in Francesca that can possibly have caused him to change. And this is where I believe the writing fails or I suppose the aforementioned suspension of disbelief is expected to kick in and make everything believable. Didn’t work for me.

Now for the end – I understand why Francesca would want to let her children know about the affair, but I do not understand why she would find it necessary to share details about where and how many times she made love! That’s just plain hurtful & poor taste and reeks of sensationalism; although a vicious part of me feels that it’s in character too. And so for all of Waller’s attempt at characterising her as a quiet, subtle woman – I found her anything but! Also the fact that the children just immediately caught on to the ‘great passion’ of their Mother’s life and accepted it as such, without ever feeling any sense of resentment or betrayal – that is just surreal! Another instance of hackneyed writing in my opinion. I wonder how a book like BOMC would do in our day and age, where affairs are commonplace and ‘true love’ is the stuff of myth and legend 😛

Lasting impressions – Disappointment and confusion. I wanted to believe but couldn’t quite. In all honesty it’s probably my fault as much as Wallers 😛 This is not my favorite genre and I’m a lot more cynical in my forties, so suspending disbelief is a lot harder than it used to be 😉 Unless we’re talking Fantasy in which all things are possible, probable and believable without a shred of doubt 😛 Also, I’ve had a huge argument with my Mom and am not feeling the love towards an errant Mom right now – even if she was chasing the love of her life & is fictitious! To top that, Waller’s prose is ordinary and some parts of this book just read like a glorified M&B, except that Mills and Boons are never pretentious. This one felt pretentious to me and try as I might, can’t get rid of the feeling. And yet I have no doubt it will make for an excellent book club discussion 😉 It has however made me want to watch the movie again and this time I’ll be paying close attention! I think this is one of the rare times when I’m going to like the movie more than the book – whether it’s because of the cast or the content – well that’s fodder for another post 🙂

The only parts where I felt a deep connect were when Waller describes Kincaid’s photography. Being a keen amateur photographer myself, I enjoyed how he went about his craft. His skill and love for what he does was obvious. And those bridges – I googled them – Pretty, but not photographed half as well as I had imaged in my head. And then I wonder why I love Fantasy so much 😛

Happy Reading People 🙂

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Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Non-Booker Reviews

 

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