Some years ago, I watched the classic Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood film, ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ which is based on the novel by Robert James Waller. I have never really been a fan of love stories but this simple yet compelling film about two middle aged strangers, brought together by fate had such a deep impact on me. It wasn’t just the tastefully portrayed love angle that made the film so beautiful. The storyline also touched on other issues such as the preservation of traditions and the constant tussle between doing wrong and listening to our inner voice. It also shone a light on unfulfilled dreams and the need to overcome obstacles no matter how difficult they may seem.
Last week a friend happened to have the book with her and I swiftly took it away so that I could read the novella for myself. Inspite of the pressure test that this week has been, I made it a point to engross myself in the pages of this romantic novel each night. I’m happy to inform you, I was not disappointed.
Robert James Waller’s amazing sense of detail makes The Bridges of Madison County —one of the most beautiful pieces of prose I have ever read and eventhough it’s a love story, the author’s brilliance lies in the fact that he saves the story from becoming a soggy melodramatic tear fest. What you end up with is a poignant story, deeply moving because it never loses sight of the ragged edges of reality. It was even able to melt a cynic like me. This piece of literature is a gem and an authentic depiction of the complexities of life and love.
I love how the written word, is almost a character itself in the novel. The handwritten letters that are discovered long after Fransesca’s death are so vividly described that I could almost imagine delicately lifting the crumpled sheets that recorded the lives and lost love of the heartbroken war bride and her trusted friend. Had the story been written today, the beauty of the letters exchanged between the lovers would have probably been replaced by a crass and impersonal e-mail or something along those lines.
This story of two people who in just four days, find one another and commit themselves to each other for a lifetime even though they remain apart is provocative in many ways. But the greater issues that the story deals with forces us to overlook the unnecessary details of the affair and appreciate the authenticity of the couple’s friendship.
What I love most about the book is that eventhough the stereotypical characters of the suburban housewife and the National Geographic photographer start of as flat and uninteresting, they gradually develop new shades and we begin to see them with new eyes. We are forced to question the longing that leads them to unite and the deep sorrow that they feel when they have to part. All along their journey we are invited into their lives and made to feel comfortable. Waller does not make his readers feel a sense of voyeuristic pleasure like other authors so often do. Instead he makes us look deeper into the characters lives and in the process forces us to examine our own. The gamut of raw emotions on display is a treat for readers and the book will leave you agreeing with the old adage ‘It’s better to have loved and lost, than never loved at all.’