Bridges of Madison County Author Dies: A Tribute

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The year was 1992. I picked up a copy of best-selling author Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County and couldn’t put it down. I knew it was a love story, and I was riveted. Like many other readers, I was intrigued by Francesca and Robert Kincaid’s 4-day, intense love story set among the landscape of rural farmland in Iowa. Kincaid is a photographer, out to shoot the covered bridges in the area; Francesca is an Italian war-bride whose husband and two children go off to the state fair for the weekend. When Kincaid stops to ask Francesca for directions, a whirlwind affair begins that changes forever the lives of these two souls.

Image result for covered bridges featured in bridges of madison county

While literary snobs panned this novel, claiming, as the New York Times writes, that the characters were “unconvincing, the sentiments sappy and the writing overripe,” I found the novel charming, sad, relatable, and refreshing. It’s a stark reminder of the choices we make in life and why we make them, despite the overwhelming passions we may feel.

Waller’s ability to paint Francesca as a dutiful wife and mother with a deep-seeded passion, along with his depiction of Kincaid’s tough-guy image with a soft and endearing heart, are at the forefront of his writing. The tenderness that ensues makes you both like the characters and feel sorry for them all the way to the end when you understand Francesca’s request she makes to her own children when they learn the truth.

Another reason why I regard this book so fondly is because I was nearing the end of earning my first master’s degree in professional writing and was taking a class in writing short fiction. Waller’s style is one I admired and tried to imitate; he may have written in dramatic fashion, but he knew how to tug at a reader’s emotions. He is definitely someone who influenced me as a writer.

Waller was 52 when he wrote The Bridges of Madison County, yet another reason to admire the man. After years as a business professor, he got the idea of the story after visiting the covered bridges in Iowa and, as a musician who had written a song about a woman named Francesca, brought the two notions together into his novel. The rest, they say, is history.

The Bridges of Madison County was a best-seller for three years, outselling Gone with the Wind. Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the film version along with Meryl Streep in 1995. Mr. Waller died on March 10 at the age of 77 of multiple myeloma.


15781589_865992106837911_1585157622209528074_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of the newly released Inn SignificantBaseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree.  Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt. 
To visit Stephanie’s Amazon Author page and see her books, click here.

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My Latest Author Crush

Markus ZusakMarkus Zusak is attractive, intelligent, in touch with human nature, deeply evocative with his use of language, and has had me thinking about the story he wrote for a good, solid week now. In fact, I know I will never forget it.

I’d call that an author crush.

I can’t get Liesel, Hans, Rosa, Ilsa, Max, and Rudy out of my mind, not to mention Frau and Michael Holtzapfel. The images he left me with are vivid and haunting, and “The Book Thief” is one of my all-time favorite stories I have read.

Perhaps Zusak’s best choice in writing this WWII novel about foster-child Liesel Meminger was allowing the story to be narrated by Death. Don’t be put off by this thought if you haven’t read the book yet. Death is a brilliant narrator, bordering on having feelings, despite the job he has to do, and attempts to understand human behavior all throughout the novel. His observations and insights enthrall readers, as he leaves us mesmerized, stunned, and feeling melancholy about the atrocities man commits toward other men. Hearing Death tell stories about Hitler, Nazi Germany, life on Himmel Street during that time, and love as observed between children and adults is Zusak’s strength. Moreover, I liked Death a great deal after reading the novel; I would not be afraid to meet the likes of him in a dark alley.The Book Thief

Furthermore, Zusak’s colorful storytelling (and I mean that, literally, as you will see if you read it) and his command of the English language make this book one you’ll have no desire to put down. While the subject matter itself is certainly emotional to read at times and leaves you scratching your head as you consider World War II didn’t happen all that long ago (not to mention allow yourself to think about what is happening in our world right now and what people do to each other), Zusak brings a lightheartedness to the novel that is greatly appreciated. I am in awe of the intricate weaving of plot and extraordinary development of character, and while this novel has received contemporary acclaim, I am certain it will go down one day as a “classic” piece of literature.

I’m so glad I took the time to read this wonderful, creative, enlightening, memorable piece of work. It takes a special person to write a story that both breaks your heart and offers you hope.

Carry on, Mr. Zusak. I can’t wait for your next story.

Below, please find a wonderful interview with Zusak. And to writers who write: listen carefully to the last part of his interview and continue to do your thing and write.

Book Review: The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding. Photo credit: http://erickimberly.com
The Art of Fielding. Photo credit: http://erickimberly.com

Once again, I’ve crafted a review to share with my Feature Writing students as they prepare to write a creative critical review of their own. Here are my thoughts on “The Art of Fielding” as promised.

The Art of Fielding: Book Review

It is rare for me to be at a loss for words, to be left with the inability to articulate why I was left feeling blasé about a piece of work that The New York Times Book Review called the Best Book of the Year for 2011. And, it is even more rare for me to be overly critical of a writer, especially one who spent ten years crafting his book to get it just the way he wanted it. In fact, for that I have only praise.

Yet, the overwhelming sentiment I was left with at the end of Chad Harbach’s novel “The Art of Fielding” was only one of disconnect and confusion. Disconnect because I had a hard time identifying with any of the characters and their actions, and confusion because I am left scratching my head and continue to have difficulty explaining why I was just left feeling blah about it.

As for the latter, there is no doubt Harbach can write. Some of his prose is melodic and lyrical and deeply emotive. His poetic sentences are captivating, and truthfully, my perception of the novel up until the halfway point was quite favorable. I was curious about the characters, but then, swiftly—as swiftly as a hitter can swing a bat at a 95-mile an hour fastball—he lost me. In baseball terms, it was a swing and a miss.

The shame of these sentiments about the way the plot unravels is that I’m a baseball girl. I worked in the sport on a professional level for a Major League Baseball team for 13 years. In other words: I wanted to like it. I want to like all things baseball.

The novel takes place at Westish College, a fictitious college in the mid-west, and centers around five main characters: Guert Affenlight, the president of the college; Pella Affenlight, his daughter who has returned from California to Westish to pursue her degree after a broken marriage; Henry Skrimshander, the Westish baseball team’s prodigal shortstop who is being courted by the big leagues; Owen Dunne, a member of the baseball team who is a scholar and is gay; and Mike Schwartz, the seeming glue of the baseball team and Henry’s mentor. These five characters’ lives become intertwined, and at the heart of it all are growing pains, psychological problems, love affairs, and a bit of scandal. Each one, in some regard, is “finding” himself or herself.

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

It was. And then…

Sometimes novels are crafted so well that you don’t mind when the characters begin to unravel and do something off-course. Those types of things surprise us as readers. However, Harbach tosses us a few unlikely curve balls, but they are too predictable in an all-too-convenient way that leaves us feeling a bit cheated, like when Sammy Sosa got caught with a corked bat in 2003.

“The Art of Fielding” is 512 pages long. As previously mentioned, Harbach’s prose is pleasant to digest, and my confusion was never about how skilled a writer he is. Ultimately, the challenge for me to like the characters and to find something endearing or redeeming in them. This was at the crux of my disappointment. To be honest, I cared more about the characters page 250 than I did on page 512.

Harbach’s literary knowledge shines through in this book. Obviously a fan of “Moby Dick,” Harbach cleverly weaves President Affenlight’s love for the novel into the storytelling and plot of “The Art of Fielding.” The symbolism of “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville leaves us wondering how it will play into the climax and resolution, and about three-quarters of the way through the story, we understand why it was an integral part of the story.

I can’t say that I was fully disappointed in this novel. It had its moments. It’s not a book for everyone, as the themes are deep and complex, but yet, I found the characters only so likeable as the plot unfolded. But maybe, just maybe, that was what Harbach intended for us to see: that they were flawed and damaged and clouded by who they are, their futures, and their own goals.

As you can see by my analysis, I’m still perplexed by it.

Did I like it or not like it?

The jury’s still out.

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738 words