When we last left Francesca, she had lost her Italian-Iowan mind and left a note for Robert Kincaid like a common whore. We’re halfway through the book and nothing has happened. Not even a little murder, or even a still-fun smaller crime. It’s not going to get any better, sorry.
“The Bridges of Tuesday”
Robert Kincaid wakes up before dawn and drives past Francesca’s house and thinks “Boy is her husband a dummy. I’d romance the hell outta that broad! Why are all men dense and useless?? AM I THE ONLY GOOD MAN ALIVE?” He gets to the bridge and we get pages and pages of camera talk as he sets up his camera. He rips some piece of paper off the bridge without even looking at it. More pages of photography talk. Just an incredible level of camera-specific details. He thinks about Francesca and then we get a bunch more pages of him shooting pictures. It’s excruciating.
AND THEN. He picks up that piece of paper he’d ripped off the bridge…and realizes it is a note. A note for him. A SEXY NOTE. It has a Yeats quote and says he can come by for supper again if he wants. Y’all, it’s ON LIKE DONKEY KONG.
Robert Kincaid realizes that it’s on like Donkey Kong, so he goes to a local diner to use their phone to invite Francesca to hang out with him while he shoots the other bridges. All the townsfolk stare cuz he ain’t from around these parts. One of them, I swear to God, says “Sure does have long hair. Looks like one of them Beatle fellows, or what is it they been callin’ some of them other people? Hippies, ain’t that it?” and all the other bumpkins laugh and laugh. This part takes place in the 60s!!!!!!!! GET IT?!
Robert picks Francesca up and she’s wearing “jeans that fit her so well, sandals, and a white cotton T-shirt that did nice things for her body.” We get nonstop descriptions of Robert Kincaid’s muscular sinewy hard glistening perfect form and that’s about it for Franny. She looks nice in a T-shirt. They go to shoot more bridges and we get a bunch more pages of camera talk but now with added details about how hot Robert looks when he uses a camera. It’s extremely boring.
They come home for supper and she shows him the shower. “He’s naked now, she thought, and felt funny in her lower belly.” This book makes me cringe every time it’s not boring me. It’s the worst kind of whiplash. Francesca had bought a new dress that day, one that “scooped down…so the tops of her breasts were exposed.” Oh shit! You know how hot ladies look in dresses that scoop down, showing off their breast tops. The tippy-tops of their bazongas. It drives the men loco.
Robert looks hot as fuck too. Comes downstairs in a button-down, khaki slacks, and brown sandals. Francesca loses it. “She marveled at the sandals,” this book says. She! Marveled! At! The! Sandals!!!
He’s marveling too. She comes downstairs in her breast-top-exposing scoopy dress and he says “Jesus” under his breath. And then he utters the sentence that makes her fall in love with him. “I mean — if you don’t mind my boldness, you look stunning. Make-’em-run-around-the-block-howling-in-agony stunning. I’m serious. You’re big-time elegant, Francesca, in the purest sense of that word.”
Why will no men in sandals call me big-time elegant when I show off my boob tops??!
“Room to Dance Again”
These chapters have the stupidest names. Anyway Robert and Franny stand there marveling at each other and the phone rings and some dumb local named Marge is on the line all “How’s your husband? Did you hear there’s some hippie photographer in town?” and Francesca and Robert’s sexual tension is dragged out even further. This book is all tension and it’s not even that tense! The breast tops are out, let’s get going.
Instead we get this absolutely ghastly passage that was actually the excerpt on the back cover. That’s how highly someone thought of this nonsense!
What a fool I was to buy this book without even flipping it over to see this enormous red flag!
He asks her to dance, in her kitchen, because of course, and they dance to a song on the radio called “Autumn Leaves.” With so much tension. “She could smell him, clean and soaped and warm. A good, fundamental smell of a civilized man who seemed, in some part of himself, aboriginal.” What does an aboriginal civilized fundamental-smelling man smell like, Author Robert? I dare you to explain your prose! Just fucking try it!
They keep dancing and their stomachs touch, which must be exciting for Character Robert since that’s what he thinks sex is and for Francesca, whose lower belly is all riled up.
We get a flash forward to a monologue Robert will subject Francesca to in one of the coming days, and it’s just a nightmare. He says he’s “one of the last cowboys.” Fuck off, you hippie-looking vegetarian in sandals. We get paragraphs and paragraphs of this stupid Tyler Durden bullshit about how corporations are taking over and a man can’t be a man anymore. Back to the dancing. It’s tense. They FINALLY fucking kiss, and it’s gross. “He kissed her, and she kissed back, longtime soft kissing, a river of it.” A river?!
In the future, Old Francesca stands in the kitchen to remember that kiss. She can only do this once a year “or her mind would somehow have disintegrated at the sheer emotional bludgeoning of it all.” Damn, imagine someone kissing you so good that if you remember it too much your brain will fucking explode. Need me a freak like that.
Old Francesca has memories of them finally sleeping together “inscribed in her mind so clearly that they might have been razor-edged photographs of his.” Are photographs razor-edged? Do photographs inscribe things? The metaphors just keep coming (and so does Francesca) because we’re back in the past now and they’re in bed and Robert knows all the moves. He “moved his chest slowly over her belly,” because that’s a more advanced form of sex after you touch stomachs. Second base is smashing chests into stomachs.
What is the experience like? Author Robert has a metaphor for it: “like some animal courting rite in an old zoology text.” I’m fed up!! This is the second time he’s tacked on a book to the imagery! Why this experience like reading about an animal courting rite?! Anyway, the next sentence is “He was an animal” so we didn’t need this stupid perverted zoology book analogy anyway. Robert’s an animal and he can last for hours and it’s not just physical, it’s spiritual. “In the midst of it, the lovemaking, she had whispered it to him, captured it in one sentence: ‘Robert, you’re so powerful, it’s frightening.’”
Author Robert, how can you ever atone for your sins!!!!!
I hate this author. I hate him SO MUCH. Sexually, Robert takes Francesca “to where he lived, and he lived in strange, haunted places, far back along the stems of Darwin’s logic” because you can just say words in any order! It’s not illegal! It’s a free country and you’re allowed to write that sentence even if I think you should be in jail for it. Robert was a leopard, and “The leopard swept over her, again and again and again and yet again, like a long prairie wind, and rolling beneath him, she rode on that wind like some temple virgin toward the sweet, compliant fires marking the soft curve of oblivion.”
L I T E R A L L Y W H A T
He’s a leopard who sweeps. Like a wind. A sweeping wind on the prairie, who is a leopard. And she’s rolling under the wind. Riding it. From below, where’s she’s rolling. Rolling like a temple virgin, who presumably is one who lives in a temple and prays, but this one also seems to want to throw herself into flames of death? How DARE you, Author Robert! And after that, we have to read about Francesca gasping “Oh, Robert… Robert… I am losing myself.” A man named Robert really wrote those words!!
Francesca is all “I never have orgasms anymore but now I do!” and Robert is like “I can also give you orgasms of the mind” and this is played for real. We don’t get any indication of what these mind orgasms entail. They continue their “great spiral dance” and Robert taps into the old ways.
What the hell kind of sex is this. Why are Navajo chants being whispered, and why is he having visions of dolphins. Do his old sex ways just involve taking ayahuasca?
Anyway, they’re both in love now.
“The Highway and the Peregrine”
How dare this book have chapter titles like this? How dare this book start out like “this is an absolutely true story and it will change your entire LIFE” and it’s just about some housewife having sex with a deranged hippie?
Anyway, now that the book is almost over, they are in love. They have sex. They eat at a restaurant and a waiter hopes that he will be in love like them once in his life. Sorry, hold on. Isn’t this book supposed to be based on a true story, as told by Francesca’s kids, based on her diary? How would any of the people involved know this random waiter’s inner yearnings?
But Francesca’s boring husband and stupid kids will be home to Iowa life up again soon, so she and Robert need to have a hard conversation. Of course they do so like normal people, just kidding, they talk like absolute maniacs.
So. That’s… all very bizarre. And that’s it, they’re just gonna break up. This book is pointless. It lacks a POINT!
There’s pages and pages of crying and florid goodbye nonsense, and then they finally separate. Richard, the husband, comes home and he’s all “What up, Franny, I’m back and I’m more boring than ever” and Francesca is in despair and he doesn’t notice because he’s not a human-peregrine-highway hybrid.
A few days later he’s all “Let’s go over to the neighboring town, I got some boring Iowa stuff to do” so she goes and holy fuckballs, Robert Kincaid is THERE. He’s there in the truck right in FRONT of them at a stoplight. Richard is all “haha look at that long-haired hippie fella” and Francesca considers jumping out into the road, running up next to Robert’s car, and getting in. “Take me, Robert!” she’ll cry, and I’m just making this part up. “Take me away from the corn and the cows because I’m yearning for a man named Robert, as all women do!” But she stays, and she bursts into tears at the difficulty of her decision. Her dumb husband is all “now what in tarnation? Oh well, I guess women be weepin” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and he turns on the radio to drown out her sobs with “livestock reports.” (?????)
In the future, Old Francesca’s dumb husband has died a few years back. He’d replaced their old kitchen table but when he died she brought the old one back out because it reminded her of Robert. She never called or wrote to Robert after they parted. She knew that if she did, she would leave her family for him.
Instead she had subscribed to National Geographic. Robert’s picture was featured in the back whenever he contributed to the magazine, and he updated his headshot every year for some wild reason that seems unnecessary for someone who works behind the camera. One year she noticed that he started wearing a medallion around his neck, so she got a super powerful magnifying glass and looked up close and could somehow see, in his small headshot printed in a magazine, that the medallion was inscribed with her name on it. Sure.
Her husband drops dead and as soon as he’s cold she calls Robert Kincaid for the first time, but he’s moved. She calls National Geographic and they’re like “Kincaid, huh? Boy was that man a genius at photography. Too much of a genius. Our readers can’t take too much art in their pictures and his photographs were just so damn artistic. Our editor had a hell of a time trying to wrangle in his beautiful artist’s heart.”
Doomed never to talk to him again, Francesca instead decides to write down the details of their love affair and she fills up THREE JOURNALS with the story even though they only knew each other for four days and only fucked for like two and a half!!
So she gets older and folks around town are like “ol’ Franny sure does love them bridges, all them bridges we got here in Madison County” because she doesn’t care about anyone anymore and just stares forlornly at bridges. It’s now almost 20 years since she saw Robert for four days. And then she gets a package in the mail from a lawyer saying Robert has died and now there are NO cowboys left, just kidding, the lawyer didn’t say that. The lawyer didn’t say anything poetic at all and Francesca is hurt and furious because the letter “should have been a thousand pages long” to pay proper tribute to the leopard peregrine shaman she knew.
She opens the package, weeping. It contains his camera, the medallion with her name on it, the photo of her, the note that she’d tacked to the bridge for him, and a letter. The letter says he’s missed her every day of his life and never slept with anyone else because no one could compare to her and his heart is full of DUST without her. He signs the letter “The last cowboy,” that pretentious fuck. He also enclosed his manuscript, “Falling from Dimension Z.” We get that manuscript in its entirety, and it’s all nonsense. Just a bunch of nonsense Robert Kincaid-speak.
“A Letter from Francesca”
Francesca dies at age 69 (nice) and the doctor says it’s of natural causes but like… way more natural than normal deaths. “We’re a little perplexed,” say the doctors to her kids, even though that’s a weird thing to tell grieving family members, “We can find no specific cause for her death. A neighbor found her slumped over the kitchen table.” I guess we’re supposed to infer that she wept herself to death. As previously established, women do be weepin’.
Francesca requested that her ashes be sprinkled over the bridge where she left the note for Robert. Note that the previous chapter was called “Ashes,” and this one isn’t. Her kids sprinkle the ashes as requested even though they’re like “seems like she should wanna be buried with dad, but okay” and then they go to her house and go through her things and find the package from Robert. There’s also a letter from their mom addressed to them, and we get seven (!!!!) pages of letter that just reiterates what we just read! It’s all information we already know! She says their story is “too strong, too beautiful” to die with her even though it just seems like regular old adultery to me.
She tells her kids that she fell in love with Robert Kincaid, “a leopardlike creature who rode in on the tail of a comet” and he was the greatest person to ever walk the earth, even though their dad was fine, whatever. She also straight-up says, direct quote, “In our old kitchen Robert and I spent hours together. We talked and danced by candlelight. And yes, we made love there and in the bedroom and in the pasture grass and just about anywhere else you can imagine. It was incredible, powerful, transcending lovemaking, and it went on for days, almost without stopping.” Lady, your kids are going through your shit because you just died, surely there has to be a better way of breaking this news in a letter you wrote specifically for them!!!
She says that she wishes her kids could experience the kind of love she felt but they won’t because no woman could be as powerful as Robert Kincaid and there’s only one man who’s Robert Kincaid so neither her son nor daughter will ever partner with anyone really great. Imagine your mom roasting your love life from beyond the grave. She ends by saying that because Robert had no living family, she hoped they would consider him part of their family (why? Would they ever? And why is it necessary?) and that his memory deserves their respect and love. This is a big ask, Dead Franny!!!
Carolyn cries at what a beautiful story it is, and looks at the picture Robert took of their mom and says she was clearly happier and more beautiful around him than she ever was around them, her dumb family. And Michael is like “oh, so that’s why Mom wanted to keep the old kitchen table!” (“because she got railed on it!”) and they both are overcome by what a lovely tragic fairytale it all was, and I don’t relate. Carolyn keeps telling us how we’re supposed to feel about this story even though we just read it and can bloody well make up our own minds about it. Clearly their mom was supernaturally romantic and interesting to have experienced such a wild affair! This Robert Kincaid must have been a hell of a man! This affair sure is fascinating and more important than maybe anything else that has ever happened!
“Postscript: The Tacoma Nighthawk”
This SHITTY book should have been over chapters ago. The dumb first chapter framing device should have been cut, Francesca’s stupid repetitive horny letter should have been cut, “Falling from Dimension Z” never should have existed at all, and now we’re at the final chapter and it too is absolutely unnecessary.
We’re back to the actual narrator of the story, the famous author who was tasked with writing this story because Francesca’s kids thought it was just the craziest thing since fucking was invented. He wants to learn more about Robert Kincaid for this book, even though we GET IT, we REALLY GET IT, the guy is NOT OF THIS WORLD and his name is ROBERT, what more do we need to know? So the author flies to Seattle to try to find people around his house who would have known him, and he finds “a black jazz musician” named Nighthawk who Robert photographed once, so he interviews him. Then he transcribes the entire interview, in a dialect, which is rough.
We learn that Robert Kincaid used to come into the bar where Nighthawk played and he would always request the “Autumn Leaves” song he danced with Francesca to before railing her on a kitchen table her son would later reminisce about. One day Nighthawk asked about his medallion with Francesca’s name on it. “Robert Kincaid was a poet when he talked about her. She must’ve really been something, one incredible lady. Started quotin’ from a piece he’d written for her — something about Dimension Z, as I recall.” WE KNOW ALL OF THIS ALREADY, WHY DID WE HAVE TO READ THIS STORY THEN READ A LETTER ABOUT THE STORY AND NOW READ AN INTERVIEW ABOUT HEARING ABOUT THE STORY??
Anyway Nighthawk was so inspired by this truly amazing story, of how Robert Kincaid had sex with a married lady one time and they never spoke again, that he spent three months writing a song about it on the saxophone. Nighthawk was very sad when Robert died. “There was somethin’ about that cat. Somethin.’ I had a feelin’ there were things he knew that the rest us don’t.” NIGHTHAWK, WE GET IT.
Anyway, now every week, in Robert’s memory, Nighthawk plays for him. “I just stand here, about twilight, makin’ that ol’ horn weep, and I play that tune for a man named Robert Kincaid and a woman he called Francesca.” LUCKILY FOR US ALL, THAT’S THE END OF THE DAMN BOOK.
(Also, Robert called the woman Francesca because that was her name. Robert Waller can’t even stick the landing on the final sentence!!)
FUCK THIS BOOK!
Let’s talk about the genesis of this monstrosity, because someone chose to publish this! And then it was one of the bestselling books of the 20th century!! Oprah did a whole episode about it. She called it a “gift to the country!”
Robert Waller was an ECONOMICS PROFESSOR. He was not a writer and should not have been one!! But he dabbled in poetry writing, photography, and songwriting. He wrote this book over the course of 11 days, if you couldn’t tell from everything about it. He’d previously published a book of essays through his university press and contacted a friend who worked there to get an agent for this one. He ended up sending it to a publisher like “I WROTE A NOVEL” and they were like “Did you, though? We can barely stretch this to 171 pages” but someone who worked there decided to commit to this story of a writer/photographer/musician who’s 52 and named Robert, written by a writer/photographer/musician who was 52 and named Robert.
I imagine the story of a housewife whose life is shaken up by a sensitive sidepiece would resonate with the type of romantic escapist who would be a “Twilight mom” 15 years later. And yet I’m still confused. I’ve read all the Twilight books and they’re a mess, but at least they’re very horny. This book isn’t horny at all, and yet people went bananas for it. It was on the bestseller list for three years! Was the public in 1992 simply used to a lower baseline of horniness in their entertainment? Must we adjust horniness for inflation?
Critics mostly hated it, but it was a smash hit and became a movie that I assume was better than the book because it couldn’t possibly be any worse. And there is one comforting fact about the movie: Meryl Streep initially didn’t want to be involved because she hated the book.
Oh, Meryl, I can’t stay mad at you. Let’s put this behind us and never, ever, ever think about this clusterfuck again.