Review: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

by Becky
Published: Last Updated on

Why: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller caught my eye while browsing the bargain table at Barnes and Noble. I had certainly heard of the title, but had no idea what the novel was about. Knowing it was a bestseller, I read the preview, and the simplicity of the story intrigued me enough to pick it up. It helped that covered bridges are so picturesque and my in-laws live in Iowa!

There are songs that come free from the blue-eyed grass, from the dust of a thousand country roads. This is one of them.

The Story: Francesca Johnson is living a quiet life in rural Iowa until the mysterious photographer Robert Kincaid pulls into her driveway to ask for directions. What happens next is the stuff of fairytales lived out in real life. The discovery of true, inspirational love of the deepest kind, challenged by the responsibilities of family and expectation.

“Analysis destroys wholes. Some things, magic things are meant to stay whole. If you look at their pieces, they go away.” That’s what he had said.

Opinion: I would like to think that I went into this book with no expectations. I knew little about it and just kind of jumped in. Yet, when I finished the last page and put the book down, I realized it was not what I had been expecting at all. Whatever that was!

For me, the book is a a strange juxtaposition of beach read and profound, conceptual literature. The plot is simple and a bit scandalous. The character development and subtle, yet intricate themes are thought provoking and inspire self reflection. It is easy for me to see how this combination has generated popularity for the book, but I still cannot decide if I liked the darn thing!

A good part of me wants to study this novel and write about it as if for an English paper. A decent part is haunted by the ideas and questions presented. The remaining part feels cheated by the “short” plot and lack of activity. To the extent it matters, I believe artist Robert Henri sums up my feelings best, “We read books. They make us think. It matters very little whether we agree with the books or not.”

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 music silent, the dreams in a box.

Recommendation: Read the introduction. Not sure if you ever read a book’s introduction, but read this one. Twice. Beyond that, I honestly don’t recommend this book if you’re looking for a light read or good story. Not that this is a bad story. I simply think you’ll be disappointed if you want plot and surface level material. I recommend this for the readers that want a relatively quick read that will still challenge them from both personal and literary perspectives. I would also recommend this for the subject of an academic assignment, should the opportunity arise!

The seven o’clock news and market summary were on the radio. And Francesca looked across the yellow Formica toward Robert Kincaid, who had come a long way to her kitchen. A long way, across more than miles.

Journaling Prompts: (If you haven’t read any of my other reviews, I enjoy putting together a few questions about the book for those that have already read, or choose to read the book after viewing this post!)

  1. Have you had a magical moment? A moment that, whatever it was, you can take yourself back to and relive time and again?
  2. Francesca tells Robert that she is supposed to tell him that Iowa is “Just fine. It’s quiet. The people are real nice.” Do you have a standard reply to this type of question? Who can you be honest with and what would you tell them?
  3. Why do you think the name of Robert Kincaid’s truck, Harry, comes up so often throughout the novel?
  4. Robert Kincaid called himself the last of the cowboys and a peregrine (which Francesca elaborates on in her note). Which of these is most accurate in your opinion?
  5. Do you agree with Francesca’s decision to share her story with her children?
  6. When the children were reading Francesca’s story, did you identify with Francesca or the children? Do you think that influenced your decision to the fifth question?
  7. Would you have shared Robert and Francesca’s love affair as Michael and Carolyn did?
  8. Does this book have a happy ending?

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Whit April 18, 2016 - 12:31 pm

Haha, the “now a broadway musical” on the top of the book cover made me crack up, especially after reading your thoughts on the book.

Becky April 19, 2016 - 9:41 am

Right?! Not quite sure how they’ll act this out on Broadway, but….people seem excited!

Review: A Thousand Country Roads by Robert James Waller - Literary Quicksand May 31, 2016 - 6:58 am

[…] for someone who has to complete series and has to finish what is started. If you’ve read my review of The Bridges of Madison County you know that I wasn’t a huge fan. So it makes little sense that I would then pick up the […]


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