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.

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

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“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

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“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

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“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. 6: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

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“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.

The Book(s) of Love No. 5: The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

TheLakeBananaYoshimoto“Why were we so far apart, even when we were together? It was a nice loneliness, like the sensation of washing your face in cold water.” 

****

I love the cover art on this one.  “Melancholy” is a nice word to start from, when talking about this novel.  Both main characters are operating from a place of grief and loss, but nevertheless try to work out ways to be together.  As you can tell from the quote, it doesn’t always work.  It was also inspired by the  Aum Shinrikyo cult, which initially drew me in, but it’s a subtle story and a quiet one.  More about the after-effects of tragedy than what it was like to actually live through the tragic event itself.

The Book(s) of Love No. 4: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

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“In the taxi I let my hand lie on her leg like a promise, but I had no intention of keeping my promise.”

****

If any book in this series will make you hate love and never want to ever be in a relationship again, it’s this one.  Don’t let that happy, colorful picture up there fool you, Graham Greene makes 1950’s London feel like a Siberian work camp.  Or, should I say, Maurice Bendrix makes it feel that way for himself?  As you may have guessed from the title, this novel’s about adultery, but it’s also about religion, depression, betrayal, duty (how English!), and how we can shape our world via emotions.  You’ll hate Maurice Bendrix and you’ll hate Sarah Miles, but you’ll also feel sympathy for them, especially if you’ve ever been in love and had it turn sour.

The Book(s) of Love No. 3: Troilus & Cressida by William Shakespeare

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“All lovers swear more performance than they are able, and yet reserve an ability that they never perform; vowing more than the perfection of ten, and discharging less than the tenth part of one.”

****

Ok, so it’s a play – get mad at me why don’t ya!  Nah, you wouldn’t do that.  This is, in my opinion, one of Shakespeare’s more interesting plays, but it is rarely taught and not performed as often as many of the other plays.  Like Romeo & Juliet, it’s a comedy… until it turns into a tragedy.  It’s incredibly funny, until it’s incredibly sad.  Cressida is in love with Troilus, until she’s not.  A lot of people have problems with this play because, unlike R&J, it’s not as tight, and it’s often difficult to determine the characters’ motives.  In my mind, that’s what makes it all the more interesting and all the more life-like.  Sometimes people make odd decisions that seem counter to their feelings and needs.  Under duress, people have been known to act illogically, and if the Trojan War doesn’t count as “duress” in your book, then I’m not sure what does.