The Book(s) of Love No. 14: The Women by T.C. Boyle

MamahCheney

“In love.  As if he would know anything of love.  As if he hadn’t trampled all over the memory of what they’d had together these past twenty years and pulled it up by the roots, so absorbed in his work – in his self – he hardly gave her a glance anymore, treating her like a servant and the children like strangers, a collective irritant and nothing more.  Love?  She was the one who knew love and loved him still, loved him in spite of herself, loved him so fiercely she wanted to leap to her feet and tear his hair out, gouge his eyes, batter him.”

****

Frank Lloyd Wright and I share a birthday, so I’ve always felt a bit of a kinship with him.  He was not, however, the best man to work for or to be in love with… Yet, somehow, he managed to attract 4 women to him, relationships which lasted years.  There may have even been more, but history is uncertain.  T.C. Boyle takes these four relationships and decides to weave the story of Frank’s middle years via them.  How anyone managed to love this man is mysterious to me, but love him these women did, and fight for him and over him they did.  Frank, meanwhile, seems to have been more in love with his magnum opus, Taliesin, than with just about any of these women in his life.  I’ll let you guess which woman says the quote above in the book, but I will tell you that the photo above is of Mamah Cheney, whose section of the novel is my favorite.

The Book(s) of Love No. 13: Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

asterios

“But at that moment, all I could think was, ‘How are we ever going to find each other?’”

****

This is a beautiful graphic novel (the art above is from one of the first pages) about art, aesthetics, hubris, human error, and relationships.  That’s also, probably, only about half the story.  The main character is an architect named Asterios Polyp, who loses everything and slowly has to begin building a life again.  Mazzucchelli moves back and forth through time, showing how Asterios has shaped his own reality and how he, eventually, tears it apart.  The main thread has to do with his relationship with lover, then wife, Hana.  It’s a brainy story, but also quite human and gorgeous to look at.

The Book(s) of Love No. 12: Atonement by Ian McEwan

atonement

“And she did not miss his presence so much as his voice on the phone. Even being lied to constantly, though hardly like love, was sustained attention; he must care about her to fabricate so elaborately and over such a long stretch of time. His deceit was a form of tribute to the importance of their marriage.”

****

If you have experience with this story at all, it’s likely through the movie, which is excellent.  I usually hate McEwan as a writer, but in this novel he gets the tone and the emotions very right.  It’s perhaps not a new story, but it’s one that’s not told as often.  We so often are told the lie that love conquers all, but despite a great deal of devotion to one another, Robbie and Cecilia struggle constantly – with each other, with the taint on Robbie’s past (a true past? a false one?), with the shame their situation brings.  Throw all that in with the events of World War II, and you have a tragic and volatile pot of emotions.  If you can stand the unrelenting beating these two take at the hands of life, it’s a beautiful novel, and a very well-written one.

The Book(s) of Love No. 11: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

suburbia

“My gosh, Nick, why are you so wonderful to me?’
He was supposed to say: You deserve it. I love you.
But he said, ‘Because I feel sorry for you.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because every morning you have to wake up and be you.”

****

Ah, the tyranny of suburbia! Nothing is what it seems in this novel, NOTHING. I will tell you that from the beginning, believe nothing that you read. Again, this novel ticks my “loves to read/watch stuff about psychopaths” button.  It’s a murder mystery story and a story about one couple’s relationship in the midst of it.  It’s about how you often don’t know all or even part of what you’re getting yourself into when you marry someone.  It’s about trust.  This book is twisted as hell and cynical and fun.  Do you need more convincing?  PS. cool art above by Ross Racine.

The Book(s) of Love No. 10: The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

zelda

“All she wanted was to be a little girl, to be efficiently taken care of by some yielding yet superior power, stupider and steadier than herself. It seemed that the only lover she had ever wanted was a lover in a dream.” 

****

Lordamercy, wasn’t Zelda Fitzgerald just gorgeous?  She was a dancer before she was Scott’s wife, before she lost the plot and became an alcoholic along with her husband.  Much like Maurice and Sarah in The End of the Affair, you will probably hate Anthony and Gloria, and I don’t blame you.  It’s hard to find anything redeeming in these two characters and their relationship.  Do they actually love each other?  Are they more in love with themselves, their fantasies, and their own youth to ever be in love with another person?  These are things to be discussed.  If Fitzgerald really based this story on his relationship with his wife, then I feel very sorry for them, and hope that at some point there was some real love between them (you can probably tell how I would answer the aforementioned questions).  It’s probably a great read for a day when the most superficial level of romance prevails – Anthony and Gloria go into their relationship expecting that superficiality to sustain them through the years.  It’s painful to watch their illusions crumble around them.

The Book(s) of Love No. 9: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

kafka on the shore_paige vickers

“What do you think? I’m not a starfish or a pepper tree. I’m a living, breathing human being. Of course I’ve been in love.” 

****

This is one of my recommendations for a Murakami gateway book – the others being After the Quake (if you’re more of a short story person or don’t want to commit to a whole novel at first) and  Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. As with any novel of his, there’s a lot going on.  Talking cats, ghosts of WWII, Johnny Walker, and Colonel Sanders all make an appearance.  However, it’s also an exploration of what it’s like to be young and of what it’s like to be transgender and of what it’s like to be in love.  Arguably, you could say that Murakami does too much to ever do anything well, but I still adore this novel, right down to the bones.  PS. Awesome art above by Paige Vickers.

The Book(s) of Love No. 8: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

dean

“A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to. And there were no limits to anything. And the people of the world were good and handsome. And I was not afraid any more.” 

****

Apologies if you read this in high school, and hated it.  I don’t like saying this, but… you, or your younger self, might be wrong.  Even if you have read it and can’t stand to do it again, please please go watch the movie version with James Dean, if only because James Dean.  Anyway, if you’re as fascinated by female psychopaths and biblical symbolism as I am, you will probably love this book.  It’s Steinbeck, so I’m not saying it’s unproblematic, but I think it’s a much less melodramatic and well-thought-out novel than Grapes of Wrath.  Can a black heart be inherited?  Can a good one?  Or is it all nurture?  And, what happens when the people we love turn out to be, well, super evil?  Read, and find out!  This is a hefty tome, though, so may I suggest the e-reader version, for supreme portability?

The Book(s) of Love No. 7: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

REBECCA“I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say.”

****

This book, and the excellent movie version by Alfred Hitchcock, starts out like every girl’s dream (and probably some boys’ dreams too!): you’re on vacation in Monte Carlo (which, hell, is already a dream come true), and a handsome, wealthy man falls madly in love with you and proposes marriage before the trip ends.  He takes you back to his lush (if somewhat gothic and isolated) country house in England where, presumably, you’re going to live happily ever after.  Oh, but you presume wrong.  A) it turns out that your name isn’t Rebecca at all, that was the name of your new husband’s first wife, who is dead.  B) that dead wife’s super creepy,  super loyal maid is still employed by your husband as the housekeeper, and she hates you!  This sucks!  Also, C) you’re an orphan, so the only person you have to confide in is your new husband, whom you don’t actually know all that well and who starts acting weird almost as soon as you get home.  What the hell is going on here?  Even just talking about this story makes me want to go read the book or watch the movie again.  As the quote suggests, this story is particularly about passion in its many forms, and how it can be both a good thing and a bad one.

The Book(s) of Love No. 6: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Nagasaki_1700s__Japan__fixed150

“One’s ribs shouldn’t be prison bars.”

****

You’ve read (and loved, of course) Cloud Atlas, right?  If so, then you should read Mitchell’s most recent novel.  He makes 18th century Japan look like the best and worst place to fall in love.  The titular Jacob, a Dutch trader, falls in love with a Japanese midwife named Orito, which is… problematic, to say the least.  Especially because the Dutch aren’t allowed to set foot on Japanese soil, aside from the floating docks and warehouses where they live and work.  What ensues is beautiful – the scenery, the cultural interactions, and, improbably, the kidnapping of Orito.  She is spirited away to a mountain-top monastery and, of course, Jacob simply must save her.  It sounds very done, but trust me on this one, every second is riveting.