4 Unlikely Literary Love Stories

With all things love floating in the air around Valentine’s day, it is easy to become inundated with the sappy baby-Cupid and chalky-candy-heart energy of the whole affair. Nothing is so quick to activate my cynicism than heart shaped boxes filled with mediocre chocolates and plastic roses garishly displayed in every store. For anyone who has truly experienced the gamut of emotions which accompany love, its vicissitudes more closely resemble a fiery inferno than the saccharine-sweet sentiments the Valentine’s cards would have us believe. There is as much pain in love as there is pleasure.

Still, we are all rushing towards this elusive state of being in earnest. There is no way to deny the magnetism of love. So, rather than turn a blind eye to love at this time of year, it might behoove us to look at things from a different angle. Perhaps a fresh perspective will remind us of just why we are all so obsessed, constantly searching for this thing called love.

By way of this notion, I offer some literary couples who break the mold, their bonds more closely resembling love in its true state. As Lysander tells Hermia in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” and these couples prove that. Though their undying devotion to one another remains intact, each of the couples follow an interesting and often twisted path towards love.


   

Marla Singer & Tyler Durden, Fight Club 

In Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel, the unnamed narrator (an insomniac with existential tendencies) meets and becomes obsessed with a woman named Marla Singer. It is at a meeting of a testicular cancer support group that the narrator first meets Marla. He is enraged that she would have the audacity to attend the support group, although he does not have testicular cancer himself. The narrator frequents different types of support groups in order to counteract his growing sense of ennui. Once he realizes that Marla has similar tendencies as himself, he cannot escape his growing interest, although he does not recognize it as affection. 

When Marla starts sleeping with his roommate Tyler Durden, the narrator’s obsession and irritation collide. Only through a surprising plot twist does the true shape of their love story become clear. As Marla states, “You love me. You hate me. You show me a sensitive side, then you turn into a total asshole.” He is both repelled by and drawn to Marla with equal fervor. Yet, it is with thoughts of Marla that he ends his narrative, promising a continuation of their anything-but-typical love story.


Lisbeth Salander & Mikael Blomkvist, Millennium (series) 

A love story that spans across several novels, the complicated relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael unfolds with as much passion and pain as any true romance often does. In the first book, the two are drawn together through the power of shared experience as well as a mutual tendency towards acting as social pariahs. When Lisbeth finally decides to accept and express her love for Mikael at the end of the book, it is only to see him with another woman. This causes Lisbeth to push away her feelings, and for the larger part of the second novel, the two communicate only in a distant and business-like manner. 

Through the impetus of another harrowing experience, Mikael must rescue Lisbeth from near-death, again forcing the two together through tragedy. This situational closeness continues in the third installment of the series, as Mikael and Lisbeth must face danger, the possible imprisonment of Salander, and major life changes together. Although they have continuously experienced separation, the third book closes with Mikael at Lisbeth’s door. Though they are both unsure, Lisbeth again welcomes him in, both to her home and to her heart. 


Celia Bowen & Marco Alisdair, The Night Circus 

Set in a fantastic and fairytale-like atmosphere, the love affair between Celia and Marco is equal in its intensity only by their inability to act upon it. The two are the pawns of powerful rival magicians, each tied to the magical Le Cirque des Reves and forced to use all of their abilities in an attempt to overcome one another. Although they cannot be together in any typical sense, the two are drawn to one another with a consuming passion. Each expresses their love through magical acts conjured to speak to the soul of the other, thus growing their bond from a forced distance.

Perhaps it is this very distance and the continual effort which it demands, that makes their love so perennial. Through the course of the novel it becomes clear that there can only be one winner in this dangerous competition, with the death of the loser as the inevitable outcome. Faced with Marco’s death, Celia risks herself to save him. The two are taken out of the physical world to become spirits, still tied to the circus, yet finally free from their bonds. As the book closes, the ghosts of Celia and Marco restore the devastated circus to its former splendor, ensuring that they will forever have a place where their love can endure. 


Lady Amalthea & Prince Lir, The Last Unicorn 

Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy novel focuses on a lonesome unicorn who sets out on a quest to find her sisters, despite the danger of a formidable enemy, the Red Bull. According to the tale, the Red Bull has driven all of her sisters into the sea, and keeps them prisoner there, at the whim of the cruel King Haggard. 

Along the way, the unicorn meets the failed magician Schmendrick and a nomad cook named Molly Grue who vow to help her with her quest. As the three get near Haggard’s castle, they come face to face with the Red Bull, and Schmendrick is forced to act quickly in order to save the unicorn’s life by turning her into a young woman, Lady Amalthea. 

At the castle, Lady Amalthea encounters Haggard’s adopted son, Prince Lir, who becomes hypnotized by the beauty and mystery of the Lady Amalthea, and pursues her although she shows him only indifference at first. Later in the quest, Lir sacrifices himself in an act of love to save the unicorn from the Red Bull. She, in turn, revives him from death with the touch of her horn. As the book closes, the two lovers are forced to separate, each returning to their own destiny. While they cannot ultimately be together, their souls have grown with the experience, and both are forever changed.    

4 Romances to Make You Fall in Love with Love

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and love is in the air! Whether you plan to celebrate with friends, family or a significant other, it’s a great day to remind people why you love them—and what better way to get into the spirit than with romantic novels? Here, I’ve compiled some of my favorite reads for Valentine’s Day that are sure to help even the most cynical fall in love with love.


The Last Song – Nicholas Sparks. This novel has always had a special place in my heart. It follows Ronnie Miller as she and her brother move to North Carolina to stay with their dad for the summer. However, ever since he left their family three years ago, Ronnie has held a grudge against him. She is an amazing musician with a scholarship to Julliard, but finds herself fighting that part of her because of the anger she holds towards her father. While in North Carolina, she meets Will who begins to thaw her heart. The more time she spends with him and learns about his family life, the more she learns to appreciate her own. It is both a heartwarming and heartbreaking story that beautifully captures the sweetness of new love, and the ups and downs of father-daughter relationships.


Me Before You – Jojo Moyes. Warning, this one is a real tear jerker, but, if this book doesn’t make you want to fall in love, I don’t know what will. The story follows Louisa Clark as she gets a job as a care-taker for a young man named Will Traynor. Will used to spend his time traveling the world doing every outdoor activity imaginable until he got in a motorcycle accident rendering him a quadriplegic. He’s been hardened by the accident and rarely interacts with people, but Louisa is determined to remind him how exciting life can be. The characters in this book are beautifully crafted and will truly leave a mark on your heart. The story is both sweet and heart-wrenching, the perfect mix for a Valentine’s Day read.

P.S. If you love this one, there’s two more in the trilogy!


Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan. On more upbeat note, this novel is both funny and heartwarming. Rachel Chu is a professor at NYU dating Nick Young. Nick’s childhood best friend is getting married in Singapore and Nick is set to be the best man. Rachel has never met Nick’s family and has no idea what she is getting into by agreeing to attend the wedding with him. She is thrown into the whirlwind that is royalty in Singapore and doesn’t really know how to react. While in Singapore she learns about her own past as well as Nick’s, leaving her with very important decisions to make about her future. This novel is a beautiful blend of humor, family strife, and love. Plus, it’s also a part of a trilogy!


The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger. This is another tear jerker that is totally worth it. It follows the love story of Clare and Henry as they try to maneuver through a life where Henry, essentially, time travels. He is diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder, which causes him to spontaneously transfer to a different time period of his life. Despite the difficulties this creates, Clare loves him so deeply that she tries her best to live with it. This life style is constantly testing the strength of their love as the world seems to be against it. The story is captivating and stressful at times, making it a real page turner. It’s sure to put you in all the feels and is the perfect addition to any Valentine’s Day reading list.

Literary Event: "How to Write a Love Letter"

Join Changing Hands Phoenix on Thursday, February 6 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. to learn about all the ways to write a love letter.

No one love letter looks the same—just as no one love looks the same either! Sit down with a drink from the First Draft Book Bar (which will offer extended Happy Hour prices to those who attend!) to learn from Amy Siverman and Deborah Sussman about how to write the perfect limerick, poem, or even prose letter to someone you adore.

Keep in mind this is a class, so you must register to attend. Here, I’ve linked more information, as well as where to register for the class. Don’t miss this—February is the month of love after all!


Location: Changing Hands Phoenix, 300 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix
Date: Thursday, February 6, 2020
Time: 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Price: $30 per person

Helpful Tip: Bring a notebook and pen/pencil or an electronic device for your love letter writing.

Register here.