Allison Flaherty ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Another Valentine’s Day is approaching with frightening speed, meaning it’s time to curl up in a cozy chair and spend quality hours with a significant other – whether it’s a lover or a favorite romance novel. There are few more comforting feelings than being enraptured with a love story, whether it’s steamy, sappy, or simple and sweet.
It’s a magic formula – boy meets girl in a breathless whirlwind of pheromones; he’s a little dangerous, she’s kind of a wallflower; circumstances conspire to break them apart; finally, they overcome every obstacle with love; then they have beautiful, poignant sex or get married (or one of them dies if it’s a John Green novel.) A good romance novel has all the flavor and familiarity of home-cooked comfort food.
But with the cloying taste of love in the air and the onslaught of heart-shaped, candy-coated reminders of companionship, it’s time to momentarily stash one of our favorite genres and pick up some slightly more twisted fiction for the month of February. It’s time to break out some alternatives to the corny covers of favorite love stories.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
It just doesn’t get more romantically dysfunctional than Nick Hornby’s rendering of intimacy-phobic, culture-junkie Rob Fleming. When his girlfriend, Laura, leaves him, Rob goes through the stages of grief – rearranging the record collection, followed by reminiscing about past relationships. He takes us chronologically through failed romances 1 through 5, starting with Alison Ashworth, his first kiss, who ranks surprisingly high on the scale of heartbreak for a six-hour relationship. High Fidelity is romance through the lens of an emotionally stunted, media-binging man-child. Rob is a classic male archetype with an allergy to commitment, comically low self-esteem, and obsessive collections, but Hornby’s deft characterization keeps him from being a cliché, and in doing so creates a classic.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
The first book in the Delirium trilogy is a masterful and moving accomplishment in Young Adult fiction. Oliver takes the ancient premise of forbidden love and breathes new life into it, creating a repressive dystopian world in which love is considered to be a disease and the vaccine is administered at the age of 18. The protagonist, Lena, is eager to be vaccinated in 95 days until she discovers love’s consuming power in the form of an unvaccinated “invalid” boy named Alex. Oliver demonstrates her talent for communicating essential truths in a stunningly intimate way through her absorbing, lyrical prose.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This novel is a heart-wrenching love story that echoes hauntingly in the reader’s mind. What seems on the surface to be a boarding school love triangle between best friends Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, slowly unravels into a devastating, subtle, delicate romance with a disturbing dystopian current running throughout. This is a love story intertwined with a troubling existential exploration of what it means to be human. It’s an otherworldly experience that renders the reader hollowed out and emotionally spent. In this unforgettable novel, Ishiguro illuminates a childhood love rooted in deep friendship and half-realized horrors.
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
In This is How You Lose Her, Diaz delivers the ultimate break-up book with his usual stylistic swagger. This collection of short stories reanimates Yunior, the lovable and deeply flawed narrator of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The nine connected stories deal with loving and cheating in turbulent romance. Yunior struggles against his reckless passions and the cultural cards stacked against him as a Dominican man trying to be faithful in his yearning for love. Diaz captures the intimate ways of the heart in a sometimes-bleak, sometimes-neon narrative. The freestyle, irreverent prose is peppered with curses in both English and Spanish. These stories are supremely human, often laugh-out-loud funny, depressing, and ultimately about the struggle to be better, sometimes on minimum wage or with a swollen heart.
Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh
Maroh’s graphic novel is an emotional journey of self-discovery, and first, last, and eternal love. The story unfolds as Emma reads her lover, Clementine’s, teenage diary. The book’s gorgeous illustrations detail Clementine’s shy affection for bold, blue-haired Emma, which leads her to discover the complex nature of her own sexuality and learn to accept herself in the face of isolating narrow-mindedness. Blue captures all the insecurity, anxiety, and bliss of first love and features dynamic and compelling queer characters. Every ache and pang of life, love, and the human condition is acutely felt in this powerful, heart-wrenching novel.