September 2009

Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man

by Karen Mack and Jennifer Kaufman

“No girl was ever ruined by a book.”
—James J. Walker, mayor of New York 1926–’32

Literature is rich with incompatible situations. In fact, it often propels the plot. We are firm believers that both solace and solutions can be gleaned from the fictional lives of others.

First of all, I do not have plans to break up with my boyfriend, no matter what people think of him. Nevertheless, it has become painfully clear no one wants him around, and our social life is nil. He’s a very nice person and extremely intelligent, but he tends to have a few anger-management issues along with a less than compassionate sense of humor. Also, for the moment, he’s not working and he’s living with me. Do you have any books that deal with this situation?
—Melissa C., Brentwood

Gee, Melissa, what a catch! No job, no place to live, no friends, no laughs and just “a few anger-management issues.” It might behoove you to take your sweet time in deciding on any permanent alliance with this guy and look at others who have traveled down this bumpy road. With that in mind, we have several books just perfect for you:

Lonely Hearts Book Club Picks

The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James

The story of Isabel Archer, who refuses two exceptional suitors and instead chooses the elegant but cruel Gilbert Osmond. “I trust you, but I don’t trust him...” says Ralph Touchette, Isabel’s sickly, intelligent cousin, of her intended’s dubious qualities. “I confess I haven’t facts and items to prove him a villain. But all the same, I can’t help feeling you are running a grave risk.”

Marjorie Morningstar, by Herman Wouk

The story of young Marjorie’s dreams of stardom and her love affair with the dashing, now classic bad boy Noel Airman. “I hope I’ve proved to your satisfaction that I’m a revolting heel, thoroughly incorrigible and unreliable, and that I will never make a good citizen of New Rochelle,” he says to her, after which Marjorie boards a ship to Paris against her parent’s wishes, crossing an ocean to track him down and get him to marry her.

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

Okay. It ends badly, but at least you’ll get to read Shakespeare.

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

Lady Marchmain detests (and what mother wouldn’t?) the atheist artist Charles Ryder and will not let him marry her daughter, Julia. He is “no longer welcome at Brideshead.”

The Missing World, by Margot Livesey

Hazel is struck by a car and suffers amnesia—forgetting the betrayals of the lover who has been vilified by her friends. The New Yorker called this Scottish writer’s mesmerizing book “a Shakespearean comedy with Murdochian overtones.” Warning: Stay on the sidewalk.

The Good Parents, by Joan London

An 18-year-old girl from a backwater town moves to Melbourne, has an affair with her older, married boss and disappears. London, author of two prize-winning short-story collections, published her first novel, Gilgamesh, to “rapturous acclaim.” The wildly erotic opening builds into a Hitchcockian tale of parents forced to reexamine their own rebellious pasts while searching for the lost child who purposefully eludes them.

And, Melissa, in the end, if all you really crave is revenge, read Carrie, by Stephen King, in which a misunderstood teen retaliates. Right up there with Lolita and Catcher in the Rye as one of the most banned books in U.S. school systems.

But truth be told, perhaps deep down inside, you know that yours is simply another inappropriate love affair. Make peace with that, and read these:

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence

Lady Constance Chatterley becomes embroiled with a gamekeeper. Sometimes, it really is just about the sex.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

A charming, attractive murderer manipulates everyone around him. And all of the women he dates profess he is “a very nice person and extremely intelligent.”