Joy, heartbreak, redemption, deception… love stories are complicated.
By Jessica Dukes
Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that you either love or love to hate. For the lovebirds, we rounded up our favorite stories to prove that love can conquer all. Single and happy? We’ve got some recommended reading that will make you feel sublime about the solo life.
Love Will Find a Way
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Perhaps one reason that Americanah has won so many awards is this: We can’t remember the last time we so desperately wanted two characters to be together. Ifemelu and Obinze, very much in love, leave Nigeria but land with an ocean between them, in the U.S. and London. Race, immigration, the American Dream—the issues pile on their fractured hearts and threaten to break them. Will they ever make it back into each other’s arms?
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
What’s more romantic than a young Italian innkeeper falling in love (at first sight, of course) with a visiting Hollywood starlet? Well, his 50-year search for her when she mysteriously disappears, for one. Pasquale conquers no less than time and space to find his first and unrequited love, but when he discovers the truth, everyone has some difficult decisions to make. Full of silver-screen lore and sweeping Italian landscapes, Beautiful Ruins is the love story that we never want to end.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Mabel and Jack, homesteaders in Alaska, are in their 50s and have lived with years of disappointment and anger at never having children. Now, this pain has boiled to the surface and threatens to destroy their marriage. One evening, in a rare moment of togetherness, they bound outside into the snow and build a snow-child. The next morning, the sculpture is missing, but a real child has appeared. Suspending disbelief, they adopt the girl and prepare for the family life they crave, even as they secretly wonder if it will last. Dear reader, we’re so sorry, but we can’t reveal another precious detail of this beautiful love story.
The Odds by Stewart O’Nan
What if the rest of your life—your retirement, your marriage, your home—depended on the outcome of a single, desperate act? The Fowlers, barely clenching the end of their rope, plan a Valentine’s Day getaway to a Niagara Falls casino with a not-very-romantic plan: gamble everything they have to save it all. The Odds is a small book full of quiet moments, but the tension packed inside is gigantic.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer (2018 Pulitzer Prize winner)
Arthur Less, a successful writer, panics when he receives an invitation to his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. He can’t go, but skipping it would make him look pathetically still in love. Instead, Arthur concocts an air-tight excuse: a world-wide tour, thanks to the mountain of invitations he has received to literary events. It’s a wild and adventurous distraction, but coming home is what Less needs the most. Sometimes the decision to be single is made for you, and sometimes the gift of true love is a surprise, too.
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
Tish and Fonny are in love and expecting a baby, but the world is dead set against their happiness. Fonny is charged with a crime he didn’t commit and it will take a staggering effort to gain his freedom—but Tish and Fonny’s families vow to soldier on until the real story comes to light. This Valentine’s Day, it’s a reminder that hard-won love is the most precious of all.
Read more: 2019 Oscar-nominated Movies Based on Books
Better Off Single
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
In a strong marriage, spouses often take turns making sacrifices to help the other’s dreams come true. For Joan, hers has been a 40-year sacrifice with no reward, until now. As the book opens, she has decided to end her marriage to a very successful author. The story rewinds to the couple’s beginning and then brings us back to an incredible twist.
A Separation by Katie Kitamura
Infidelity is a common reason for couples to separate, but this wife’s husband disappears before they can even announce their separation, much less sign divorce papers. When her in-laws suspect foul play and ask her to travel to Greece to look for him, she feels she can’t refuse. As she keeps the separation a secret, what she finds is more horrific than anyone imagined.
The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante
Abandoned by her husband, suddenly a single mother to two children, Olga spirals out of control. Everything goes wrong: Ailing children, crippling insomnia, and embarrassing run-ins with her ex-husband are just the beginning. At rock bottom, she finds herself trapped in her own home, unable to unlock the doors, and her sick dog dies. Fortunately, Olga’s tornado of a life subsides, the skies clear, and she slowly learns how to be herself again. A great read if you’re reeling from a painful breakup.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Believe the title: This is truly a super-sad love story. The U.S. is on the verge of complete financial collapse, people are rioting in Central Park, and there could not be a worse time for 40-year-old Lenny and 24-year-old Eunice to fall in love. Can they overcome the impersonal wall of technology between them? Can they make it out of NYC before it’s too late? Should a love like theirs exist in these absurd conditions? Most importantly, is love even a thing anymore?