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90's FAMILY : Love of a Lifetime Put Aside

July 13, 1994|CARROLL LACHNIT | Media Monitor examines the family issues raised in current films, books and television shows. It appears on the '90s Family page

In Print: "The Bridges of Madison County" by Robert James Waller (Warner Books, 1992). The book has been on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list for nearly two years.

Peopling the Pages: Francesca Johnson, 45, lives with her husband and two teen-age children on a farm in Iowa's Madison County. Robert Kincaid, 52, is a solitary, world-traveling photographer with a poet's soul.

Back Story: After years of marriage to Richard, who is kind but dull, Francesca has submerged her romanticism, sexuality and passion. Kincaid, once married, easily attracts women, but he has yet to find the one who can tame his wandering spirit.

Fuse Time: On an August day in 1965, Kincaid arrives at Francesca's farm and asks for directions. The attraction is immediate. The two are swept into a four-day affair. Kincaid wants her to leave with him, but Francesca decides to stay with her family.

Telling Quote: "In four days, he gave me a lifetime, a universe, and made the separate parts of me into a whole," Francesca writes to her grown children in a letter they open after her death. "I have never stopped thinking of him, not for a moment. . . . But it never took away from anything I felt for the two of you or your father. Thinking only of myself for a moment, I'm not sure I made the right decision (to stay). But taking the family into account, I'm pretty sure I did."

Prescription Pad: The story of Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid "articulates that deep-seated longing we have for bliss and ecstasy," said Dr. Edna Hermann, a clinical psychologist who practices in Los Angeles. But in "Bridges," passionate love doesn't conquer all. Family ties can be stronger than ecstasy, Hermann said.

"We are beginning to challenge the beliefs of the '60s and '80s, when it was 'Me, me, me--I'm entitled, and to hell with the rest of the world,' "she said. "The heroine is struggling with whether, as a morally responsible person, she can travel joyously on a road built on the ruins of her family."

Francesca refuses to make that journey. "It's a different love she has for her family, but it is love, nevertheless."

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