Books

REVIEW: 'Bridges of Madison County' poetry, photos fall flat

Fan fiction — in which amateur writers create new adventures for existing characters from book, television, or movies — is fairly common. It’s even occasionally shockingly successful, as in the case of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which originally was “Twilight” fan fiction. But fan poetry is far rarer — “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” (composed by Charles Randolph Green and performed by Leonard Nimoy) notwithstanding.

Ben Stellino takes a swing at this unlikely genre with “This Thing Between Us,” a collection of poems and photos revisiting Robert James Waller’s 1992 sensation “The Bridges of Madison County.”

In her introduction, Stellino says Waller’s story of a couple who forge an intense connection over four never-to-be-repeated days parallels a relationship in her own life. While “The Bridges of Madison County” was a runaway success, several critics mocked Waller’s style. For example, Peter Travers, writing in Rolling Stone, compared the prose to the text of greeting cards.

Arguably, Stellino’s poetry is subject to criticism of a similar kind. She writes passionately, but not convincingly. Whether she is writing in the voices of Waller’s characters or comparing her own longing to theirs, the language is flat, the images are cloying, and too many cliches are on offer.

It’s impossible to miss the fierce and sincere emotions that drive these poems. But while the emotion is authentic, it simply cannot compensate for the awkward writing.

Meanwhile, Stellino’s photos of Madison County are reasonably well composed but uninspiring. This is a project that clearly has deep personal significance but, like Robert and Francesca’s love affair in the novel, it probably should have been kept private.

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