The Bridges of Madison County

The Bridges of Madison County

by Robert James Waller

Hardcover(Large Print)

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Fall in love with one of the bestselling novels of all time — the legendary love story that became a beloved film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep.

If you've ever experienced the one true love of your life, a love that for some reason could never be, you will understand why readers all over the world are so moved by this small, unknown first novel that they became a publishing phenomenon and #1 bestseller. The story of Robert Kincaid, the photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, the farm wife waiting for the fulfillment of a girlhood dream, The Bridges of Madison County gives voice to the longings of men and women everywhere — and shows us what it is to love and be loved so intensely that life is never the same again.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781410403797
Publisher: Gale Group
Publication date: 01/22/2008
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 166
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Robert James Waller lived on a remote ranch in the high-desert mountains of Texas, where he pursued his interests in writing, photography, music, economics, and mathematics. He was the New York Times bestselling author of The Bridges of Madison County, which was adapted into a film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood and also as a successful Broadway musical, and Thousand Country Roads. He died in his home at age 77.

Read an Excerpt

The Bridges of Madison County

By Robert James Waller

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2014 Robert James Waller
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4555-5428-7


Robert Kincaid

On the morning of August 8, 1965, Robert Kincaid locked the door to his small two-room apartment on the third floor of a rambling house in Bellingham, Washington. He carried a knapsack full of photography equipment and a suitcase down wooden stairs and through a hallway to the back, where his old Chevrolet pickup truck was parked in a space reserved for residents of the building.

Another knapsack, a medium-size ice chest, two tripods, cartons of Camel cigarettes, a Thermos, and a bag of fruit were already inside. In the truck box was a guitar case. Kincaid arranged the knapsacks on the seat and put the cooler and tripods on the floor. He climbed into the truck box and wedged the guitar case and suitcase into a corner of the box, bracing them with a spare tire lying on its side and securing both cases to the tire with a length of clothesline rope. Under the worn spare he shoved a black tarpaulin.

He stepped in behind the wheel, lit a Camel, and went through his mental checklist: two hundred rolls of assorted film, mostly slow-speed Kodachrome; tripods; cooler; three cameras and five lenses; jeans and khaki slacks; shirts; wearing photo vest. Okay. Anything else he could buy on the road if he had forgotten it.

Kincaid wore faded Levi's, well-used Red Wing field boots, a khaki shirt, and orange suspenders. On his wide leather belt was fastened a Swiss Army knife in its own case.

He looked at his watch: eight-seventeen. The truck started on the second try, and he backed out, shifted gears, and moved slowly down the alley under hazy sun. Through the streets of Bellingham he went, heading south on Washington 11, running along the coast of Puget Sound for a few miles, then following the highway as it swung east a little before meeting U.S. Route 20.

Turning into the sun, he began the long, winding drive through the Cascades. He liked this country and felt unpressed, stopping now and then to make notes about interesting possibilities for future expeditions or to shoot what he called "memory snapshots." The purpose of these cursory photographs was to remind him of places he might want to visit again and approach more seriously. In late afternoon he turned north at Spokane, picking up U.S. Route 2, which would take him halfway across the northern United States to Duluth, Minnesota.

He wished for the thousandth time in his life that he had a dog, a golden retriever, maybe, for travels like this and to keep him company at home. But he was frequently away, overseas much of the time, and it would not be fair to the animal. Still, he thought about it anyway. In a few years he would be getting too old for the hard fieldwork. "I might get a dog then," he said to the coniferous green rolling by his truck window.

Drives like this always put him into a taking-stock mood. The dog was part of it. Robert Kincaid was as alone as it's possible to be—an only child, parents both dead, distant relatives who had lost track of him and he of them, no close friends.

He knew the names of the man who owned the corner market in Bellingham and the proprietor of the photographic store where he bought his supplies. He also had formal, professional relationships with several magazine editors. Other than that, he knew scarcely anyone well, nor they him. Gypsies make difficult friends for ordinary people, and he was something of a gypsy.

He thought about Marian. She had left him nine years ago after five years of marriage. He was fifty-two now; that would make her just under forty. Marian had dreams of becoming a musician, a folksinger. She knew all of the Weavers' songs and sang them pretty well in the coffeehouses of Seattle. When he was home in the old days, he drove her to gigs and sat in the audience while she sang.

His long absences—two or three months sometimes—were hard on the marriage. He knew that. She was aware of what he did when they decided to get married, and each of them had a vague sense that it could all be handled somehow. It couldn't. When he came home from photographing a story in Iceland, she was gone. The note read: "Robert, it didn't work out. I left you the Harmony guitar. Stay in touch."

He didn't stay in touch. Neither did she. He signed the divorce papers when they arrived a year later and caught a plane for Australia the next day. She had asked for nothing except her freedom.

At Kalispell, Montana, he stopped for the night, late. The Cozy Inn looked inexpensive, and was. He carried his gear into a room containing two table lamps, one of which had a burned-out bulb. Lying in bed, reading The Green Hills of Africa and drinking a beer, he could smell the paper mills of Kalispell. In the morning he jogged for forty minutes, did fifty push-ups, and used his cameras as small hand weights to complete the routine.

Across the top of Montana he drove, into North Dakota and the spare, flat country he found as fascinating as the mountains or the sea. There was a kind of austere beauty to this place, and he stopped several times, set up a tripod, and shot some black-and-whites of old farm buildings. This landscape appealed to his minimalist leanings. The Indian reservations were depressing, for all of the reasons everybody knows and ignores. Those kinds of settlements were no better in northwestern Washington, though, or anywhere else he had seen them.

On the morning of August 14, two hours out of Duluth, he sliced northeast and took a back road up to Hibbing and the iron mines. Red dust floated in the air, and there were big machines and trains specially designed to haul the ore to freighters at Two Harbors on Lake Superior. He spent an afternoon looking around Hibbing and found it not to his liking, even if Bob Zimmerman-Dylan was from there originally.

The only song of Dylan's he had ever really cared for was "Girl from the North Country." He could play and sing that one, and he hummed the words to himself as he left behind the place with giant red holes in the earth. Marian had shown him some chords and how to handle basic arpeggios to accompany himself. "She left me with more than I left her," he said once to a boozy riverboat pilot in a place called McElroy's Bar, somewhere in the Amazon basin. And it was true.

The Superior National Forest was nice, real nice. Voyageur country. When he was young, he'd wished the old voyageur days were not over so he could become one. He drove by meadows, saw three moose, a red fox, and lots of deer. At a pond he stopped and shot some reflections on the water made by an odd-shaped tree branch. When he finished he sat on the running board of his truck, drinking coffee, smoking a Camel, and listening to the wind in the birch trees.

"It would be good to have someone, a woman," he thought, watching the smoke from his cigarette blow out over the pond. "Getting older puts you in that frame of mind." But with him gone so much, it would be tough on the one left at home. He'd already learned that.

When he was home in Bellingham, he occasionally dated the creative director for a Seattle advertising agency. He had met her while doing a corporate job. She was forty-two, bright, and a nice person, but he didn't love her, would never love her.

Sometimes they both got a little lonely, though, and would spend an evening together, going to a movie, having a few beers, and making pretty decent love later on. She'd been around—two marriages, worked as a waitress in several bars while attending college. Invariably, after they'd completed their lovemaking and were lying together, she'd tell him, "You're the best, Robert, no competition, nobody even close."

He supposed that was a good thing for a man to hear, but he was not all that experienced and had no way of knowing whether or not she was telling the truth anyway. But she did say something one time that haunted him: "Robert, there's a creature inside of you that I'm not good enough to bring out, not strong enough to reach. I sometimes have the feeling you've been here a long time, more than one lifetime, and that you've dwelt in private places none of the rest of us has even dreamed about. You frighten me, even though you're gentle with me. If I didn't fight to control myself with you, I feel like I might lose my center and never get back."

He knew in an obscure way what she was talking about. But he couldn't get his hands on it himself. He'd had these drifting kinds of thoughts, a wistful sense of the tragic combined with intense physical and intellectual power, even as a young boy growing up in a small Ohio town. When other kids were singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," he was learning the melody and English words to a French cabaret song.

He liked words and images. "Blue" was one of his favorite words. He liked the feeling it made on his lips and tongue when he said it. Words have physical feeling, not just meaning, he remembered thinking when he was young. He liked other words, such as "distant," "woodsmoke," "highway," "ancient," "passage," "voyageur," and "India" for how they sounded, how they tasted, and what they conjured up in his mind. He kept lists of words he liked posted in his room.

Then he joined the words into phrases and posted those as well:

Too close to the fire.
I came from the East with a small band of travelers.
The constant chirping of those who would save me and those who would sell me.
Talisman, Talisman, show me your secrets. Helmsman, Helmsman, turn me for home.
Lying naked where blue whales swim.
She wished him steaming trains that left from winter stations.
Before I became a man, I was an arrow—long time ago.

Then there were the places whose names he liked: the Somali Current, the Big Hatchet Mountains, the Malacca Strait, and a long list of others. The sheets of paper with words and phrases and places eventually covered the walls of his room.

Even his mother noticed something different about him. He never spoke a word until he was three, then began talking in complete sentences, and he could read extremely well by five. In school he was an indifferent student, frustrating the teachers.

They looked at his IQ scores and talked to him about achievement, about doing what he was capable of doing, that he could become anything he wanted to become. One of his high school teachers wrote the following in an evaluation of him: "He believes that 'IQ tests are a poor way to judge people's abilities, failing as they do to account for magic, which has its own importance, both by itself and as a complement to logic.' I suggest a conference with his parents."

His mother met with several teachers. When the teachers talked about Robert's quietly recalcitrant behavior in light of his abilities, she said, "Robert lives in a world of his own making. I know he's my son, but I sometimes have the feeling that he came not from my husband and me, but from another place to which he's trying to return. I appreciate your interest in him, and I'll try once more to encourage him to do better in school."

But he had been content to read all the adventure and travel books in the local library and kept to himself otherwise, spending days along the river that ran through the edge of town, ignoring proms and football games and other things that bored him. He fished and swam and walked and lay in long grass listening to distant voices he fancied only he could hear. "There are wizards out there," he used to say to himself. "If you're quiet and open enough to hear them, they're out there." And he wished he had a dog to share these moments.

There was no money for college. And no desire for it, either. His father worked hard and was good to his mother and him, but the job in a valve factory didn't leave much for other things, including the care of a dog. He was eighteen when his father died, so with the Great Depression bearing down hard, he enlisted in the army as a way of supporting his mother and himself. He stayed there four years, but those four years changed his life.

In the mysterious way that military minds work, he was assigned to a job as photographer's assistant, though he had no idea of even how to load a camera. But in that work, he discovered his profession. The technical details were easy for him. Within a month he was not only doing the darkroom work for two of the staff photographers, but also was allowed to shoot simple projects himself.

One of the photographers, Jim Peterson, liked him and spent extra time showing him the subtleties of photography. Robert Kincaid checked out photo books and art books from the Fort Monmouth town library and studied them. Early on, he particularly liked the French impressionists and Rembrandt's use of light.

Eventually he began to see that light was what he photographed, not objects. The objects merely were the vehicles for reflecting the light. If the light was good, you could always find something to photograph. The 35-millimeter camera was beginning to emerge then, and he purchased a used Leica at a local camera store. He took it down to Cape May, New Jersey, and spent a week of his leave there photographing life along the shore.

Another time he rode a bus to Maine and hitch-hiked up the coast, caught the dawn mail boat out to Isle Au Haut from Stonington, and camped, then took a ferry across the Bay of Fundy to Nova Scotia. He began keeping notes of his camera settings and places he wanted to visit again. When he came out of the army at twenty-two, he was a pretty decent shooter and found work in New York assisting a well-known fashion photographer.

The female models were beautiful; he dated a few and fell partially in love with one before she moved to Paris and they drifted apart. She had said to him: "Robert, I don't know who or what you are for sure, but please come visit me in Paris." He told her he would, meant it when he said it, but never got there. Years later when he was doing a story on the beaches of Normandy, he found her name in the Paris book, called, and they had coffee at an outdoor cafe. She was married to a cinema director and had three children.

He couldn't get very keen on the idea of fashion. People threw away perfectly good clothes or hastily had them made over according to the instructions of European fashion dictators. It seemed dumb to him, and he felt lessened doing the photography. "You are what you produce," he said as he left this work.

His mother died during his second year in New York. He went back to Ohio, buried her, and sat before a lawyer, listening to the reading of the will. There wasn't much. He didn't expect there would be anything. But he was surprised to find his parents had accumulated a little equity in the tiny house on Franklin Street where they had lived all their married lives. He sold the house and bought first-class equipment with the money. As he paid the camera salesman, he thought of the years his father had worked for those dollars and the plain life his parents had led.

Some of his work began to appear in small magazines. Then National Geographic called. They had seen a calendar shot he had taken out on Cape May. He talked with them, got a minor assignment, executed it professionally, and was on his way.

The military asked him back in 1943. He went with the Marines and slogged his way up South Pacific beaches, cameras swinging from his shoulders, lying on his back, photographing the men coming off amphibious landing craft. He saw the terror on their faces, felt it himself. Saw them cut in two by machine-gun fire, saw them plead to God and their mothers for help. He got it all, survived, and never became hooked on the so-called glory and romance of war photography.

Coming out of the service in 1945, he called National Geographic. They were ready for him, anytime. He bought a motorcycle in San Francisco, ran it south to Big Sur, made love on a beach with a cellist from Carmel, and turned north to explore Washington. He liked it there and decided to make it his base.

Now, at fifty-two, he was still watching the light. He had been to most of the places posted on his boyhood walls and marveled he actually was there when he visited them, sitting in the Raffles Bar, riding up the Amazon on a chugging riverboat, and rocking on a camel through the Rajasthani desert.

The Lake Superior shore was as nice as he'd heard it was. He marked down several locations for future reference, took some shots to jog his memory later on, and headed south along the Mississippi River toward Iowa. He'd never been to Iowa but was taken with the hills of the northeast part along the big river. Stopping in the little town of Clayton, he stayed at a fisherman's motel and spent two mornings shooting the towboats and an afternoon on a tug at the invitation of a pilot he met in a local bar.


Excerpted from The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. Copyright © 2014 Robert James Waller. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Bridges of Madison County 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 143 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I actually had heard about this book, and the movie, which I have never seen, as I am from Iowa (although not that part). I really think this book goes far beyond a romance novel, although it might appeal if you like those. But it is much deeper than that, as it is not only about love. It is about renunciation, and true connection between two people, and it is about destiny, and fate. It is also about unachieved dreams, and it is about understanding. Those are not themes covered by your average romance novel.
I think you understand this book better if you are from the rural Midwest, although the theme can be anywhere, any place. But, if you are from small town America, you get the parts of this book that elevate it above just a love story. To me, the book encompasses lots of things. I think Francesca's lack of fulfillment in her marriage and in rural Iowa are more understandable if you know what those towns and people are like. She is deeper than they, and her passion for Robert Kincaid is as much as about unfulfilled dreams as love. She is deeper than the people around and deeper than her husband, and has never known true love. She finds understanding and perfect passion, but it doesn't last in practical reality. But the connection and bond between her and Robert Kincaid is there across the miles, and I think you might have had to experience some of these things to like this book.
Adultery is a very realistic topic for fiction, and it isn't a bad one. It gives the flavor of the bittersweet even more to this book. I don't know how you could not like this book on those grounds. It makes it that much more realistic, like it could have happened. At any rate, especially about the Iowa parts of this book, I found myself just thinking exactly when I read about some of that stuff, and you have to understand the background to get the story. The background is spot on, and it makes the story come alive. However, I really liked this book, even though this isn't the stuff I normally read.
PiperGrissom More than 1 year ago
Written in 1992 by Robert James Waller,it stayed on the best seller list for over 150 weeks. This is the story of Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid. Francesca is a once-lovely Iowa farm wife, Robert is a photographer/poet/writer. They begin a four day affair that changes their lives forever. Not just about lust and sex, their story is about soul mates, eternal love, devotion, loss and magic. The book is written as a true story, in fact, it's all fiction. "There are songs that come free from the blue-eyed grass,from the dust of a thousand country roads. This is one of them." is the first line of the book. Written beautifully in lyrical prose, this is a must read. I own two copies of the novel, two copies of the book on tape, and two copies of the film. I named my youngest daughter Madison. Yes, it's that good.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book at least once a year.It is so powerful that I know when I pick it up I will not put it down until I am done.It is supburbly written. I had a 'Robert Kincaid' love in my life over 20 years ago and I can feel every word in the depths of me. I can not imagine that anyone could ever portray this magic, bittersweet love story better than Robert James Waller.I wish I could thank Robert for touching me in the way that he has with this book.His words are a warm remberence.They reach out and embrace. They ever so gently caress.They are as soft as butterfly wings and as strong as ocean tides. I smile, I cry, I reflect and most of all I savor wonderful memories.However, maybe if you have not loved in this all consuming, spiritual, magical way you will not feel the true power of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book not long after it came out. Also saw the movie a bit later. Same reaction each time. Author managed to bring the characters to life. Very sad story, but leaving a good aftertaste.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it. Very touching.
lilyML More than 1 year ago
I new about this book from a while back and just got around to reading it. I fell utterly and completely in love with the book. Francesca and Robert had a love so deep that it was timeless and ageless. It brought tears to my eyes because I could releate to their dilemma. This was not only a book about true love but it was also a book about how love does not conquer all when faced with real life responsibilities. Two other books that I've read with the characters facing similiar situations are The Notebook and Dear John. If you haven't read those books, please do...they are tearjerkers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this book a couple of years ago and immediately fell in love with it and cried at the end. I think we all wish for a moment we could have a love like Robert and Francesca's--maybe some people do. Not only does this book focus on a love story it also makes you think about the choices that you make in your life. As Francesca said 'We are the choices we make.' Two misfits manage to find their way together. An absolutely wonderful story. The movie is well done too. Have a box of tissues ready.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Don¿t even try to say you¿ve never done it. Lust that is, after someone. The Bridges of Madison County is a well written contemporary classic about a heart thrashing, tear jerking love affair. Yes ladies it is the chic flick on paper. It all starts with a city man asking for directions in a little country town where everybody knows everybody. Her name was Francesca Johnson she was married with kids and he wasn¿t. It was an extremely secretive affair. When Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid meet, her family was out of town at the state fair in Illinois and Robert Kincaid was a photographer for National Geographic. When he first asked for directions she should have just told him the directions instead of getting in the truck with a stranger, not forgetting you¿re a married woman that lives in a small, noisy, country town. If she wouldn¿t have gotten into his truck named Harry to show him the bridge, she wouldn¿t have had to experience the pain of loving someone that you can¿t have. If she wanted to show it to him she could have drove her truck and he could have followed. This less than 5 minute ride to the bridge was enough to trigger both Francesca¿s and Robert¿s attraction towards each other. One thing differently I would have done if I were Francesca, would be that I would have written him a letter and kept in touch. She could have written Robert letters in her spare time. Francesca thought she was so sad; imagine not having anything at all to remember the person your in love with, but a piece of paper that was pinned to a bridge. Robert Kincaid had nothing to look at from Francesca, but that note. She had a picture, a few letters, jewelry, and cameras. She had a variety of things to remind her of their love. He had nothing but a note, no longer than 3 sentences. I guess that¿s what partly made this book so good to know that he loved her the way he did, because it is always heart warming to hear a man say I love you and mean it. This book is my favorite book, because it expresses true love and it also teaches you to never ever let anything or anyone pass you bye. This book should be read by everyone. It isn¿t only a chic book. It clearly states the way Robert Kincaid loved Francesca Johnson and the way she longed for him. So it might just teach guys that it¿s okay to fall in love with a girl. This is now my favorite book and I could read it 20 more times and be just excited as I was the first time I read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you like Nicholas Sparks' books, you will love this!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting love story that can happen to people when they least expect it proving that true love does exist for some under unusual circumstances and does affect them for a lifetime and beyond.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book intrigued me deep down in my heart! It brings out what most of go through and crave for in real life. It fulfills what we dream of in love. This is what we call passionate love- when you are inside the person you love. Short-lived romances are often more magical. It's a must read for all those people who beleive in love, beauty, passion, magic...
Anonymous 6 months ago
The writer is a self-absorbed, lonely, old man who doesn't know anything about women or families. No doubt he spent years on this fantasy, but there's no reason for anyone else to spend a minute. Absurd from beginning to end
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great story but unfortunately you don't have to read it as the entire book is summed up in the overview. What a shame!
foof2you on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An easy read, an interesting story, yet one wonders why women are all agog about this story. If ANY man did what this woman does would be road kill. Raises some very interesting questions between the sexes.
chellerystick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I finally read this one which was popular when I was a teenager. I think now was the right time to read it. It is about an austere affair, something with few accoutrements besides minds, bodies, and four days of hot, quiet summer. I would say that there is something of the declensionist point of view here... that passion is vanishing... and yet it bottles up a little of that passion. I suspect this is why it became so popular. Adulthood is rarely that intense of an experience and this novel reminds us what falling in love is like. It also affirms it as an adult possibility--the characters are in their 40's and 50's at the time of the affair--rather than being one more high school romance. It is a fairy tale in which the "happily ever after" is not their dissolving their past to create a blank future, but rather carrying that light with them into their future responsibilities. The poetry was not awful, the sex was not awful, and the book was quite short, so I did enjoy myself as I read it.
mrsrjd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I listened to this book on the heels of The Horse Whisperer and so felt I'd had more than my share of idealized, justified adultery pushed in my face. Moralizing aside, The Bridges of Madison County was by far a more palatable story of forbidden love, or lust. Bridges seemed nearly poetic in style and the characters, while not fully developed, danced well to Waller's cadence. I would recommend this book to fans of romance and/or poetry.
hamiltonpam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I saw the movie first, but it did not ruin the book. It was a great read.
koalamom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a beautiful, wonderful love story, the kind of love that lets you go but still not want to do so. The kind of love that transcends everything. The kind that just can't really be real until it happens to you.
Monica71 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Do I feel guilty about loving a book about adultery? No. Because I am a realist. This is an amazing book about life and the insanely difficult choices that fall into our laps when we least expect it. Or do they happen because we are dying inside and are unaware of it, reaching out for a life preserver? Do you agree with the decision she ultimately makes? That depends on weather you lead with your heart or your head, or in this case both.
connect2jamie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this when I initially read it back in 1992. I don't know if I'd like it as well now--I need to reread it. I know I definitely liked it less when I saw the movie...hmmm.....
cal8769 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very moving, a true love story where you want the couple to succeed even though they are adulterous.
aarthimuralidharan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very romantic. The portrayal of characters and the first person narration is superb. Though the story is slightly beyond the realms of reality, it explains something which could happen to anyone. It is all about this lady, Francesa who meets the man of her dreams when she is already married and a mother of 2 kids.
KLSimpson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was one of the first books that actually made me cry! A beautifully written love story.
saskreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I worked in a bookstore during the frenzied craze surrounding this book. I resisted for about a year, then finally read it. It just wasn't very good. When I heard a movie was being made, I had extremely low hopes; however, the movie turned out to be surprisingly well done.