Written by: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor
In this classic article from April Fools’ Week, CC2K exposes this famous novel as a sexist male fantasy tale masquerading as a “sensitive” female-centric love story.
A word from the nominator, Jack Hork:
Washing out The Bridges of Madison County
by Anastasia Salter
I’m always wary when someone tells me a novel is a bestseller.
It’s not that popular opinion is always a bad thing: what is popular is not always bad, just as it is not always good. But the bestseller—particularly a bestseller that seems to follow the pattern of the American novel, with various grandiose delusions and sentimental endings—is a curious beast. Sometimes it can be good for killing a few hours on an airplane, and sometimes it’s so bad that you just know there will be a movie version starring Nicholas Cage for Christmas next year.
Sometimes, it’s a rightly heralded classic.
Unfortunately, Bridges of Madison County is not in that last category. I did make use of it as an airplane read, but I can’t say the hours passed pleasantly; in fact, they seemed rather unbearably slow. No doubt my seatmates were equally unimpressed by the loud sighing and occasional swearing that accompanied my reading.
I’ve never seen The Bridges of Madison County film adaptation. That’s something I’m fairly comfortable with, even as a movie buff who will watch almost anything. But I am familiar with the story, thanks to a liberal education that included access to my mother’s complete collection of Doonesbury books. As I recall from Trudeau’s Washed-out Bridges and Other Disasters, Boopsie falls for a renowned photographer amidst flood and conversation about his beautiful bod and fabulous lifestyle. The entire surreal sequence was apparently brilliant parody—but last time around I didn’t realize what was being parodied.
That said, The Bridges of Madison County could have been even more painful to read. It was only misogynistic and filled with bad metaphors and overdone imagery. I imagine most of you are more familiar with the story than I was—perhaps you’ve been subjected to the no doubt equally excruciating experience of watching the movie—and so you already know that it’s the tale of an unhappy woman who married solely to escape her home country for a life in the U.S. Naturally, after the initial euphoria of escape wears off, she finds herself realizing she’s made one of those “forever” decisions that’s not really going to pay off in the long run.
Enter the author’s fantasy alter ego, a world-renowned photographer and apparent sex god. The similarities to the author have apparently been remarked upon many times, as it’s written in one of those pseudo-memoir styles to imply a level of realism that is frankly thrown out of context by the ridiculousness of the story. This is over the top love painfully conveyed in a way that screams of a male author trying to communicate female desire. Robert Waller might be speaking to those lonely women he imagines are lying in cold marital beds waiting for him to come to their rescue, but he’s telling them exactly what *he* wants to hear.
I won’t soon forget the ending, with its resounding notes of male wish fulfillment present in every word of Francesca’s final speech as she explains her reasons for accepting a loveless, miserable life over her own desires. ““I’m not sure you can be with me along. Don’t you see, I love you so much that I cannot think of restraining you for a moment. To do that would be to kill the wild, magnificent animal that is you.” Ah yes, that’s what men want: to be that untamable beast that tramples through women’s lives leaving only wistful thoughts behind. God forbid that the passionate love affair end in commitment instead. For a woman so upset that nothing in her life ever changes, she’s certainly ready to apologize for it: he doesn’t have to change, she doesn’t have to change, her husband doesn’t have to accept that she might change. Everything can continue comfortably in the status quo.
The Bridges of Madison County was a perfect pick for April Fool’ Week. This book is awful.