Best books for a broken heart

For years after my last failed relationship, I’d been hoarding lines from books that seemed to describe my ex so perfectly and destructively. Willa Cather wrote about the grouchy husband, Frank, in O pioneers! His unhappy mood was like a cage. He could never get out of it. And he felt that others, especially his wife, must have put him there.” Yes Yes, that was exactly how it was! I thought, doodle quote.

Even the smallest moment in I’m Karenina, this classic detachment, can conjure up visions of misery. Anna’s husband completely loses his ability to think when he sees a woman crying: Leo Tolstoy wrote: “The emotional distress caused by crying in Alexei Alexandrovich on such occasions will be manifested in a rapid loss of disposition.” My ex-boyfriend’s inability to deal with feelings was there. The great Russian novelist understand.

During a breakup, when being single takes on a new degree of roughness and intensity, the need to find your own life reflected in artwork is never greater. It can be easy to get lost in the idiosyncrasies of your exhausted love and become convinced that no one has ever gone through what you’re going through. (Every family is unhappy, etc.) But reading a book that manages to be eloquent about the emotions that often make one unclear makes it possible to be kind to yourself. The books below are psychologically sharp and genuinely insightful about the specific confusion of separation. And despite their deep understanding of the pain of heartbreak, they provide the unwavering assurance that love is still worth pursuing.


casing
random house

The rules don’t applyBy Ariel Levy

The opening pages of Ariel Levy’s diary She is sending from the depths of a waking nightmare. “In the past few months, I’ve lost my son, my wife, and a home,” she tells us. “My grief is so intense that I often feel it will flatten me.” The following is an account of events so disastrous, that they seem very much like divine vengeance over a lifetime of reckless ambition: Anonymous abortion on a reporting trip to MongoliaA period of her obsessive impotence with her abusive ex-partner and their ongoing relationship, and the painful end of her marriage. Lively prose is immediate and often humorous; She writes about Lucy, her husband, with a regret that breaks off the page and brings tears. “You are the worst,” I once said, and I meant it, I admitted. “To my best friend in the world. I said to the one with whom I slept in a thousand naked nights, I was the worst. As Levi moves toward a hopeful, hopeful future, it’s hard not to feel tenderness—for her, of course, and for everyone whose life has been affected by grief.


Cover of The End of the Affair
Penguin classics

end of the caseWritten by Graham Greene

Maurice Pendricks only wants to know – urgently, jealously – what his mistress, Sarah, was about to do. It has been nearly two years since the night of June 1944 when they slept together and the Nazis bombed London. After that, Sarah silently broke off their four-year relationship. The book’s delightfully twisted plot is so interesting that Pendricks even hired a private investigator, at the suggestion of Sarah’s husband, Henry, to succeed her during her frequent disappearances. But make no mistake: Greene’s theme is love at its most torturous. Pendricks’ exasperation is noted very delicately, the way he waits for Sarah’s phone calls with “hope for company,” the way the nights become unbearable—”the curtain will rise and the play will begin: always the same play, Sarah making love, Sarah with X, doing the same things we did. Together,” Green writes. The most fascinating sequence in the novel comes when we finally discover Sarah’s whereabouts. The misunderstanding of a relationship becomes almost painfully poignant when viewed from the other side, and love, with its ecstasy and anguish, takes over the whole sweep of the religious experience.


memorial cover
Riverhead

MemorialWritten by Brian Washington

Mike and Benson’s four-year relationship is slowly but relentlessly falling apart, and neither knows why or how to stop it. Things become more complicated when Mike drops his mother Mitsuko in their apartment to stay with Benson, the black lover she’s never met; Mike then travels to Japan to be with his estranged and dying father. In sections alternating between each man’s perspective, Mike and Benson spend their days in different countries: in Osaka, Mike learns the ropes at his father’s bar, while in Houston, Benson settles into a temporary cohabitation with Mitsuko. But what preoccupies both men are the everyday moments that shaped their lives together, in a partnership whose future is now uncertain. Some of these memories—”I love you”, fights they can seem to resolve only through sex—are so clearly noted, and so compelling, that they made me cry even the second time I read the book. It’s an ode to a certain kind of romance, the knotted but enduring devotion between people who just can’t make it work. “But that does not diminish the love,” says one of the characters. “It just changes shapes.”


love defense cover
Harper Perennial

defense of loveby Christina Nehring

In this provocative intellectual defense of romantic love, Nehring wrote: “Love at its strongest, wildest and most original is a demon.” “It’s a religion, a high-risk adventure, a heroic act.” But nowadays, she maintains, the experience has become vaguely trivial and embarrassing, stripped of its danger and its “spiritual consequences.” Nehring convincingly dissects the misconceptions of our culture. Rather than blinding us, love actually sharpens the precision with which we see others as individuals. She writes: “Sharp feelings haunt sharp minds,” and who wouldn’t feel a little ego, in the midst of a breakup, reading that sentence? The chapter on “Love as Failure” is also encouraging: it notes that measuring its success is a narrow approach that ignores the greatness and meaning of the feelings involved. Not everyone will agree with every thread of what Neering calls an “overtly polemical” argument, but it’s the vitality that makes it hard to resist. Vivid summaries of the Socratic dialogues and the twelfth-century letters of Abelard and Helios are strewn throughout. A warm close reading of the legend of Tristan and Isault; He attracted capsule biographies of geniuses who loved desertion, including Frida Kahlo, Emily Dickinson, Simone de Beauvoir, and Mary Wollstonecraft.


Red's biography cover
classic

Red’s biographyWritten by Ann Carson

In this seemingly eerie and poignant dream “novel in poetry,” Carson extracts Geryon, the red winged monster, from the myth of Hercules (written as Heracles in the book) and places him in our world, along with hockey practice, Fodor’s guides, and philosophy conferences. He is a sensitive child, and tends to write stories with sad endings – and at 14 he sees 16-year-old Hercules getting off the bus at three in the morning. Jerion is smitten. In Greek myth, the tenth of Hercules’ famous act was to kill Geryon and steal his flock of magical red cattle. Here, Heracles escorted him to his grandmother’s house and suddenly broke his heart. Eight years later, Geryon travels to Buenos Aires—now a philosophy student who sprinkles bits of Heidegger (in German!) into his home postcards—and meets Heracles with a male companion at a bookstore. What comes up, in this perverted book, is the particular concern of unevenly distributed love, in which one person cares far more than the other. One comes far from longing, like Geryon, to the ability to freeze fleeting moments or emotions in time, a desire made even more impossible by this.


Cover of Grand Central Station I sat and cried
classic

At Grand Central Station I sat and criedby Elizabeth Smart

Lots of actual plot Via Grand Central Station, or at least a copy of it, can be found in the author’s biography at the back of the book. Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart came across a volume of poetry in a London library and fell in love with its author, George Parker, that she paid him and his wife to fly to the United States to meet her. Smart and Parker’s relationship—which eventually produced four children—began to form the basis of this glorified short book, originally published in 1945. However, in the novel, what happens between them is almost off-target. We hardly see the narrator’s lover; Critical developments are just implied. Smart writes instead on the level of myth, religion and pure feeling, and her prose has its own logic. Ten well-orchestrated sections chart the narrator’s emotional seasons: the excitement and guilt of liaisons amid the “redwoods of the cathedral,” her parents’ enmity and the wider world of reckless love, and theatrical but deeply connected despair (“I wonder why someone hasn’t noticed I’m dead and bothered to bury me”) . But all along, Smart’s belief in love is unwavering and contagious. She wrote: “In all states of being, in all worlds, that’s all there is to it.”


handling cover
William Morrow

a companyby bell hook

The third entry in a trilogy that includes the famous It’s all about loveAnd the a company Focuses on Hawks’ personal experiences, as a feminist college student against the backdrop of women’s emancipation in the 1970s and as a woman with male partners. “Before I turned 40, I never thought my relationships were short-lived because I didn’t know enough about love,” she wrote. Only in middle age, at the end of a 15-year partnership, did she begin to think critically about her relationship to intimacy, seeing clearly her partner’s flaws as well as her own. a company Gather the insights you gained after this period of self-realization. The search for love is one of the most important tasks in human life, as Hooks affirms, and her firm optimism that everyone can cultivate a connection full of mutual growth and openness inspires hope. “Leaving this relationship was not about giving up love,” she concluded. “It was a gesture that would set me free to truly search for love – the gesture that would allow me to love again.” The prospect of creating a bond that lives up to Hawks’ relentless vision can be daunting. This book will make you want to try.


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