A Thousand Country Roads
In the introduction to A THOUSAND COUNTRY ROADS, Robert James Waller writes that in the years since the publication of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, thousands of readers have written asking him to tell them more about Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson.
If this is what readers are looking for, A THOUSAND COUNTRY ROADS will be a disappointment. Because it's anything but another love story.
Over 12 million copies of Bridges were sold in the past 10 years --- 6 million in hardcover --- making it the best-selling hardcover of all time. It wasn't the quality of the writing or the depth of the plot that made the book a success but that Waller created a heart-wrenching story of two lovers who have only a handful of days to live out their romance.
Readers responded to the passion of the thwarted love affair between the cowboy photographer and a disenchanted housewife --- who in the end does the right thing and sticks it out with her perfectly nice but boring husband.
For A THOUSAND COUNTRY ROADS to be billed as a conclusion to that love story is a misnomer. BRIDGES already had concluded in the first novel. In fact, Waller opens BRIDGES with the epilogue perfectly scripted --- Francesca has died, and her children find Kincaid's letters while going through their mother's effects.
So, since Waller killed off Francesca and Kincaid in book one, in this slim new novel he's now been forced --- and forced it feels --- to manufacturer a new tale.
This story focuses on Kincaid, not Francesca. At 68, Kincaid has little left but his dog, old photographs, and memories. With those memories pushing him, he sets out on a journey to return to the bridge where he and Francesca met.
He doesn't want to find her. He just wants to stand there and find an elusive something that never became clear to this reader.
To see if the bridge is still there? To see if it makes as great an impression on him now that so many years have passed? To commune with the past?
There's even less going on for Francesca: her husband has died and mostly she's trying to avoid the advances of her well-meaning neighbor.
And, oh yes, Francesca is haunted by Kincaid. But neither of them picks up the phone or writes or makes any real effort to find each other. Instead, they both remain wrapped up in a memory.
If it's giving away too much to say that they don't meet up again, forgive me. But it's only fair to warn all those millions who read BRIDGES and who might think this book will give them even a few more pages of that love affair --- or any love affair for that matter.
Rather, Waller has manufactured a new storyline that does not offer any additional insight into the feelings between Kincaid and Francesca. There is Carlisle McMillan --- a young man who is on a quest to find the father he's never met and has only a few clues to go on --- and Wynn, his mother, who had a very brief affair with a stranger in the mid 1940s.
Their story --- and the way they come together with Kincaid --- is not only contrived but lacks any meaning for fans of the original book and adds nothing to Kincaid's character. We only find out that he's once before met up with a lovely woman for a few days, and left her too.
Mostly, A THOUSAND COUNTRY ROADS suggests the title of a much finer novel: YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN.
Reviewed by M. J. Rose whose new novel, FLESHTONES, will be published this summer. on January 23, 2011
A Thousand Country Roads
- Publication Date: January 10, 2013
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 181 pages
- Publisher: John M. Hardy
- ISBN-10: 0971766711
- ISBN-13: 9780971766716