1995 drama directed by, and starring, Clint Eastwood, co-starring Meryl Streep, based on the novel of the same name by Robert James Waller. Tearjerker. The Madison County in question is in Iowa.

"Here's a Hallmark card for all those who have loved and lost." – Kirkus Reviews.

A 1992 novel by Robert James Waller which was a phenomenal popular success, staying on The New York Times bestseller list for three years. Usually, a paperback edition is released relatively soon after the original hardcover release, but in this case it didn’t appear for years because people were still willing to snap up the hardcover. Despite the numbers, the book got a unanimous thumbs down from critics, because it was a steaming pile of crap, full of overwrought purple prose and wooden dialogue. Nevertheless, Waller churned out a number of similarly-themed novels which didn’t duplicate the success of TboMC, but they still sold by the truckload. Inevitably, there was a 1995 movie based on the novel, but the film, starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep and directed by Eastwood, was quite good.

It’s August 1965, and Francesca Johnson is a woman from a small town in Italy who married an American GI. Now she’s a farmer’s wife in Madison County, Iowa and her husband and two children are away for a long weekend at a state fair showing a calf or something like that. Francesca is, naturally, a complex woman with a rich inner life who is neither challenged nor satisfied by her life as an Iowa housewife. Along comes Robert Kincaid, a National Geographic photographer in town to document the county’s historic covered bridges. Kincaid is, of course, a rugged, handsome guy who is a strong but sensitive rambling man, nothing like her boring, practical husband. Naturally, they hook up and spend four days making passionate "transcending" adulterous love. But like Ilsa and Rick, fate has decreed that the soulmates must be apart, alas. Francesca vows not to desert her family, and Robert rambles on, leaving as the only sign of his passing a lifetime subscription to National Geographic which mysteriously starts appearing in the Johnson mailbox. Most of the novel is told in flashback, as her grown children in 1989 try to come to grips with the death of their mother and the letter she left for them telling them about her affair.

Choose the conclusion of your choice:

• Every generation has its own crappy novel. TBoMC is simply the Jonathan Livingston Seagull of the early 1990s.

• TboMC is the best example of the oft quoted idea that a great novel will become a bad film, and a bad novel will become a great movie. That Eastwood and Streep make a great film out of this crap is a testament to their craft. Another is this: when the actors playing Francesca’s children appear on screen, you want to scream at them to get off because the movie starts to suddenly suck in a serious way.

• A great idea can transcend the worst writer. Many laymen think that coming up with ideas is all there is to writing. ("Where does he get all those ideas?") They are wrong, of course. Many poor writers stumble on the seed of a great novel but are unable to explore it to its full potential because of their inadequate skill. Nevertheless, readers are often inspired by those ideas despite the poor prose. The Tarzan novels are a good example.

In TboMC, there exists the seed of a great novel. Were it written by, say, Raymond Carver, it would be a great book that no one would read. Instead, it is a horrible book which will litter flea markets and garage sales for generations to come. But at its core is a romantic idea, exploring the tension in many women feel between spontaneous passion and the nesting instinct. Soap operas and crappy romance novels act as a catharsis, but here Waller tackles the idea head on, sparking its immense popularity among middle-aged women like your aunt.

• People have no taste. 90% of everything is crap.

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