Unusual Valentine Reading

So it’s Valentine’s Day again. How does this keep happening?

Based on the fact that I handle a number of romance novels, it’s clear that I enjoy a good love story. But I’ll note here that I really flip for love stories that are a bit…unusual.

Last summer, I lost my mind over Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist. A novel about a husband of four who has an affair with a married woman, it had all the drama of five love stories packed into one book. But what I most admired about it was how realistic the emotions felt, how relatable this unlikely family was, and how thoroughly non-judgmental Udall was about his characters. It’s a brilliantly rendered novel, and I highly recommend it for those of you looking for something a little less expected on this particular Valentine’s Day.

Or maybe you’re so totally over this holiday that you want to see love partnered with bloodshed. Happily, there are some dark minds out there willing to accommodate you. Donald Ray Pollock’s sprawling The Devil All the Time features a serial killing couple that picks up hitchhikers so that the husband can photograph the wife in flagrante delicto with them…and murder them. And the husband is impotent! I mean…it’s pretty much all things for all people. That doesn’t even begin to cover how deeply twisted the novel is. It’s one of the most brutal, unflinching works of fiction I’ve read in some time, and I’ll just say it: it’s bloody fantastic. (Bad pun alert!)

Before I swing back to sweeter love stories, let’s also mention The Silence of the Lambs because you know Clarice had a thing for Lecter, J. G. Ballard’s sex among the car wrecks in Crash, and the excruciating horrors of bloodlust, pedophilia, incest, and love-gone-wrong of Dennis Cooper’s (I think it’s amazing, but I can’t recommend it because I’m scared you’ll judge me) Try.

Let’s get back to the more romantic (though still unusual) side of things, for those of you who don’t feel violent when V-Day comes around! You could read my all-time favorite novel as of this exact moment (it rotates between three or four): The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The ultimate story of falling for someone out of your league, Quasimodo’s passionate tumble for Esmeralda destroys me every time. If you can find a last paragraph that makes me cry any harder, I might actually end up institutionalized.

Or, dive into Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant’s House and feel free to swoon over Peggy and James, the spinster librarian and 8’7” younger man who find mutual understanding in this beautifully compassionate, heartfelt novel.

Also, if you want to watch a movie instead of reading today, it’s okay. I won’t tell. Harold and Maude, anyone?

So tell me: what are your favorite love stories, be they dark, depressing, beautiful, sweet, or otherwise?

Lastly, I mentioned in my last blog post that I intended to read all 16 books in the Tournament of Books before it kicks off this year. Four to go! One of them is still 1Q84… Whether I make it or not is a total coin toss, but I also wanted to recommend the most unexpected surprise of the event so far: the intense pleasure of reading Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers. Talk about a writer to watch!

3 Responses to Unusual Valentine Reading

  1. Tamara says:

    Too many to name, but how about Princess Bride (the movie), Cold Mountain (the book), The English Patient (the movie), Forest Gump (the movie), Ivanhoe (the book), Pride and Prejudice (the book), Edward Scissorhands (the movie), By Nightfall (the book), Bel Canto (the book) … I could go on and on, and I think I did.

  2. Sylvia Fisher says:

    Classic – I will always have a deep abiding love for Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities. A man wiling to bite it for his love during the Reign of Terror, even though said love prefers his brother from another mother. Le sigh.

    Recent YA – Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma. Incestuous relationship that develops between a socially outcast brother and the sister he shares parenting responsibilities with (they have three younger sibs and an absent, alcoholic mom). He’s not an “outcast” in the awkward social skills sense, every breath he takes around those not in his immediate family is fraught with pain. This story killed me.

    And yes, I adore Harold and Maude and always will. It spurred my interest in tall spindly boys early on and I can’t watch that manic drive in the tricked out Jag-hearse set to Cat Stevens’s “Trouble” without losing it. And if someone stood in front of me and tried to dangle that limited edition pressing of the soundtrack in front of my face, I’d go Hunger Games on them.

  3. Julia Pierce says:

    I know this is a little late, but… I love a good beauty and the beast story- in any form. One of my favorites is Robin Mckinley’s “Sunshine”. Any sort of fantasy or paranormal story that has a strong romantic element draws me in. For me, reading is all about the escape from everyday life. I like to see a bit of magic realism in my stories- real life, but fantastic :)

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