The story, which poses as the truth with a how- I-came-across-these-documents introduction, is this: rugged 52-year-old photographer/poet and free spirit Robert Kincaid has a four-day love affair with Francesca Johnson, an unfulfilled Iowan farmer's wife whom he meets by chance; though they never see each other again, this passion obsesses both of them for the rest of their lives. Kincaid is a combination of old-fashioned machismo and New Man soulfulness - in him frontier legends meet Iron John; a prevalent myth of muscular, self-sufficient manliness combined with fashionable cod psychology.
In the middle of sex, Kincaid whispers to the awed Francesca: 'I am the highway and the peregrine and all the sails that ever went to sea.' He describes himself as 'one of the last cowboys', in a pseudy exposition of ideas that convince Francesca - and has also persuaded several previous lovers - that he has 'an intelligence that (is) brilliant in a raw, primitive, almost mystical fashion', but which convinces any sensible reader that he is an overblown bore. He has, we learn, tight chest muscles, a 'small rear', a belly 'as flat as a knife blade' and the animal grace of a leopard. He's cute, too. We are told five times that he calls his pick-up truck Harry.
Meanwhile, Italian-born Francesca, though 45, has breasts that are 'nice and firm'. A former schoolteacher, she should know better than to fall for Kincaid's hogwash. We are constantly assured of the power of the love these two have for each other, but from a different cultural perspective it is hard to believe in, or to like, either of them.
This is a midwestern Mills & Boon with ideas above its station and a movie adaptation in mind. Kincaid, in a rare moment of insight, says: 'That's the problem in earning a living through an art form. You're always dealing with markets, and markets - mass markets - are designed to suit average tastes.' You said it, Mr Waller.