Well, Valentine’s Day has come again, and I’m going to be brutally honest and let you know that it’s been a long four years since I’ve “celebrated” this particular holiday. We at BQB have some books that are excellent and appropriate Valentine’s Day reading, ranging from nonfiction relationship guidance to fiction love stories (check out the samples of He Said, She Said, I Said [bookstore link], Business with a Heart [bookstore link], and Falling into Forever [bookstore link]), but I’d like to also take some time to consider some of those stories that display love in a way that I would never have realized was possible. So, here’s a little homage to the love stories that I may not use as models for my life. At least they have made me more aware of what could be out there in the great wide abyss of un-begun love stories.
10 Stories of Uncommon Love
On the Grotesque side . . .
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Perhaps the most obvious choice for a list of uncommon love stories, Lolita is a most appropriate example of out-of-the-ordinary romance (I may have cringed slightly when typing that). Humbert Humbert gives you all the creepy vibes from the first time he sees the eponymous conquest to the final visit when she has outgrown his desires—with all the uncomfortable “prepubescent” descriptions in between. Oh the beauty of literature, to help us see through the eyes of a pedophile.
The Seducer’s Diary by Søren Kierkegaard
This little gem could also be referred to as The Stalker’s Handbook. Johannes plans his seduction of Cordelia by following her every movement and knowing her every engagement. Then let’s talk about the seduction itself, which is only fully “enjoyable” if Cordelia falls in love with him and then breaks their engagement of her own free will (because that, you know, shows his true dominance over her). Johannes is definitely a word unfit for publication by my standards, but fine, Kierkegaard was proving an existential point about the immorality of living only for aestheticism. Point taken, sir.
On the Love Deferred side . . .
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Florentino Ariza is either the most committed admirer in literature, or the one with the worst sex addiction (though Tomás from The Unbearable Lightness of Being could probably give him a run for his money, maybe they could start an SAA . . .). The continual association with love as an illness, particularly the confusion of the symptoms of love and those of cholera, give me some well-deserved misgivings about this book; but, in the end, Fermina and Florentino’s finding love at the end of their lives is pretty endearing.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
What is it with the ladies and marrying people that aren’t their childhood sweethearts? Or the sweethearts being so committed, for that matter? Nevertheless, Leo’s love for Alma is a beautiful thing. It survives the Holocaust, crosses continents and language barriers, manifests itself as great literature—but ultimately it endures and brings together some unexpected people.
On the Gothic Romance side . . .
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Communication is obviously a problem in this relationship, a problem caused probably by the rather large age difference between the two love birds (hovering around twenty years) and the resulting power dynamic in the relationship. Nevertheless, the gothic setting and eerie mystery surrounding first wife Rebecca—reaching its climax in that awful (aka excellent) party scene—is nail-biting and discomforting until nearly the very end. And then! All we can do is lament: if only they’d talked to each other . . .
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Similar in mood to Rebecca, Wuthering Heights offers a literary pair whose dynamic can’t be matched. Katherine and Heathcliff: so frustrating and so irresistible at the same time. How do they do it? So maybe the relationship is a little borderline abusive (or not so borderline), but can anyone argue that it’s not compelling? I, for one, spent a lot of time yelling and fuming, and then quietly picking it back up to see what happened.
On the Wait, What? side . . .
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
I’m going to be honest, I haven’t actually read or seen Twelfth Night, so I’m going to unashamedly base my note on what I know about the play from hearsay and the movie adaptation She’s the Man; but I think this just furthers my point that this love story is plain bizarre. The girl-disguised-as-a-guy trope is a fairly common one at this point (thanks to Shakespeare, right?), but let’s not discount it because of its repetition in our cultural conscience. Gender switching never fails to throw all characters involved for a loop. What do you even say when your friend peels off her fake facial hair and professes her love to you? According to She’s the Man, quote a not-really-related line from the original play and then win a soccer game—yeah!
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffennegger
Guilty again: haven’t actually read this, but at least this movie isn’t a loosely based adaptation. The main plotline is the same. A man with a genetic disorder jumps around in time, making things a little awkward for the wife he leaves behind often and unexpectedly. What’s really awkward, I think, is how they meet when she is around five or six. Fine, if you don’t take the storyline literally, it gets quite interesting, but to go along with the bizarre category, really all you need to evaluate is the title.
On the Those Women Do What They Want side . . .
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Let’s move past all the derivative works this play has inspired—including My Fair Lady, Pretty Woman, and all those weird eighties movies that involved bringing robots and/or life-sized dolls to life—and consider Shaw’s original version of the play, which did not include Eliza and Professor Higgins getting together at the end. Yeah, she walked right out on his pretentious, arguably OCD-self, shaking her head and thinking “what will he do without me?” And honestly, I have to agree with her—what will he do without her?
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Dagny Taggart certainly works her way through the lovers in Ayn Rand’s grand statement of a novel (which I usually like to read for the love triangles, skipping all the long speeches and page-long paragraphs about the Dog-Eat-Dog bill or whatever it was), but she obviously has to end up with John Galt because only they have “earned” the right to each other . . . okay, I’ll level, I don’t really get what Rand is talking about a lot of the time, especially in Dagny’s relationships, but you can’t deny Dagny gets what she wants, namely, Galt and her railroad, and I think she’s pretty awesome for that.
There you have it—the weirdest love stories I can think up. Like I said before, I wouldn’t encourage you to go looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right based on the example of Humbert Humbert or Dagny Taggart, but if you want some philosophies on love to puzzle over, these should keep you occupied for at least the duration of February. Did I miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
Have you already read these as well as your own personal stash? Don’t let Valentine’s Day come and go without indulging in the season at least a little (even if secretly). BQB has some unexpected love stories too. Check out Violet Path (bookstore link) or The Cast Net (bookstore link) for romance that you didn’t see coming.