One warm 1960s summer day Robert Kincaid walks into the quaint Iowa town of Winterset to photograph its beautiful old bridges for a photo essay for National Geographic. Asking directions at a local farmhouse, he meets Francesca, a beautiful farm wife whose family is away at the state fair. They fall deeply and immediately in love. For four days, they revel in one another's beauty and the magic that they bring to each other. When it comes time for him to leave, Robert wants her to go with him, but she makes the painful decision to stay with her family. After Robertos;s gone, Francesca keeps track of him through his pictures in National Geographic. She notices the careworn lines of his well-traveled face, the medallion around his neck that bears her name. After he dies, his ashes are scattered near the bridge they photographed together, and she receives a box of his personal effects. When she dies, she leaves them to her children, along with three volumes of writing which contain her story of their love. True love shines in this spare, simple story. Not literary so much as classic, the love story of Robert and Francesca is as universal and eternal as Romeo and Juliet.
Quietly powerful and thoroughly credible, Waller's first novel (he previously wrote two books of essays) describes the profound love between a photographer and an Iowa farmer's wife who, together for only four days, never lose their feelings for each other. In August 1965, 52-year-old divorce Robert Kincaid packs his pickup truck and travels to Iowa's Madison County, the location of seven covered bridges he is to photograph for National Geographic . There, he asks directions of Francesca Johnson, alone at home while her husband and two children visit the Illinois State Fair. Initially, neither Robert nor Francesca expects their random encounter to lead to seduction, yet their mutual desire is undeniable. Waller tells their story as though it were nonfiction, claiming to have heard about Francesca from her children after her death, read her journals, seen Robert's relics of those four days and interviewed a jazz musician who knew the photographer. Scenes between the lovers are movingly evoked and moments with Francesca, who celebrates her birthday 22 years later by reflecting on her brief time with Robert, are particularly poignant. An erotic, bittersweet tale of lingering memories and forsaken possibilities.