Its the week after Valentines Day. The chocolate has been devoured, the ornate, uncomfortable underwear has been shoved back into the drawer, and some unsteady relationships have buckled under the stress of the saccharine Hallmark holiday.
If youre in one of those broken relationships, or you just like reading about the vicissitudes of love, here are ten wonderful books about breakups. They range from the hilarious (Nora Eprhons salty roman à clef Heartburn) to the deranged (Elena Ferrantes fantastic novel Days of Abandonment), and cover all of the emotional ground in between. While they might not all provide solace, theyll certainly provide a distraction.
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Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934)
This is Fitzgeralds last completed novel, and it is loosely based on the end of his volatile marriage to Zelda Sayre. It is about a wealthy couple, Nicole and Dick Diver, who have a dysfunctional, parasitic relationship marred by alcohol and mental illness. It is a reminder not to idealize other peoples partnerships: beautiful, glittering couples you know might have ugliness and rancor hidden beneath the surface.
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Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion (1970)
The beautiful actress Maria Wyeth is in a mental institution while she narrates this spare, sun-soaked novel about her unhappy childhood and her divorce from the heralded Hollywood director Carter Lang. Maria (pronounced like Mariah) gets involved in other destructive romances, but her devotion to her daughter, a four-year-old named Kate, is unyielding.
Heartburn, Nora Ephron (1983)
This is an autobiographical novel about the end of Ephrons marriage to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein. The heroine, a cooking show host named Rachel Samstat, discovers her husband is cheating on her when she is seven months pregnant with their second child. Because shes Nora Ephron, she manages to make this book funny and poignant instead of bitter. Heartburn has wonderful observations about the good parts of marriage (and the good parts of men), so even if youre going through a breakup, it wont make you lose hope.
Love, Loss and What I Wore, Ilene Beckerman (1995)
This brief memoir told through various outfits is all about a woman coming into her own after various romantic and life tragedies. Beckermans mother dies young, she goes through two divorces, and she has to live through the death of one of her children. It may inspire you to go on a post-breakup shopping spree in order to have new clothes for all-new memories.
Days of Abandonment, Elena Ferrante (2002)
Olgas husband, Mario, leaves her and their two children after lunch one day in this Italian novel. Mario gives her little explanation and then becomes unreachable for weeks at a time. Olga becomes completely unhinged. Bills go unpaid; ants invade her home; she yells at a random woman while walking her dog. Olga has great, ecstatic reveries of anger. She yells at Mario, I dont give a shit about prissiness. You wounded me, you are destroying me, and Im supposed to speak like a good, well-brought-up wife? Fuck you! The prose in the English translation is sharp and beautiful and is so intense that you might have to put the book down to catch your breath.
The Big Love by Sarah Dunn (2004)
33-year-old protagonist Alison gets a dagger right to the heart when her live-in boyfriend, Tom, goes out to get mustard during a dinner party and never returns. Alison, a reporter at a dying alt-weekly, is an appealingly specific character: Shes an ex-evangelical Christian who has only slept with two menTom, and a religious ex who turned out to be gay. Dunns writing is funny and warm, and though shes not exactly forging new territory plot-wise (A 30-somethings quest for love and career in a city), The Big Love will envelop you like a good friend.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
Its a cliché to recommend Eat, Pray, Love to someone in a romantic trough. Wouldnt we all love to jet off to Italy, India and Indonesia to find ourselves? But Gilbert is a marvelous travel writer brimming with trenchant observations of the new people and experiences she encounters. Its rare to find a book that honestly deals with the depression following a major life changein Gilberts case, a painful divorceand though sometimes her revelations feel too pat, her book has helped millions.
Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation by Rachel Cusk (2012)
Cusk, a well-known literary novelist in England, writes about the immediate aftermath of her divorce. It goes deep into her psyche, and explores her interactions with her children, her feelings about gender roles, and her beautiful rage. Black poisonous hatred has flowed from the fatal wound to our marriage, Cusk writes, [it] flowed through every source and outlet, soaked into everything, coated the children like the downy heads of coastal birds are coated in tar.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
In the mid-'90s, Strayeds mother died, and she separated from her husband. In this moment of loss she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail all along the West Coast of the U.S. Strayed took this journey at age 26, and it toughens her spirit, her body, and her resolve. It is so resonant, that New York Times critic Dwight Garner was reduced to tears while reading it. Says Garner: I was reduced, during her books final third, to puddle-eyed cretinism.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman (2013)
If you ever wanted to deeply understand the psyche of some flinchy guy who dumped you, this is the book for you. Waldmans novel is told from the perspective of the narcissistic, introspective Brooklyn writer Nate Piven. Nate was an undersexed nerd in high school. Now that hes appealing to women, he tends to treat them callously. Hes not a complete jerk, just self-involved and deeply neurotic. As Catherine Straut put it in her ELLE review of the novel, Waldmans sharp psychological insights yield spot-on portrayals of au courant politesse, cringeworthy personal interactions, and all-too-familiar interior monologues.