“Love story” is the most populated shelf on my Goodreads account. I freakin love stories about love and cannot get enough. My favorite stories are those that depict love that is just crazy and beautiful, love that defies all logic, love that makes sense between two unlikely people haunted by personal demons. I adore love stories that feature love between two people where they create their own little reality, their own shelter from the obstacles of life. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately after reading Heather Demetrios’ I’ll Meet You There last week. So here is Crazy, Beautiful Love redux, the angsty stuff that give me, someone who has never been in love like that, hope that I’ll fall in love with my own tortured hero one day.
In no particular order, here are my Top 10.
This is it. This is perhaps my favorite romance of all time. It’s crazy and angsty and painful. Christian, a Duke, suffers a stroke that causes him to lose his ability to form coherent speech as well as understand what is being spoken to him. He is locked in an insane asylum and treated inhumanely, as nothing more than an animal. This was really hard for me to read seeing as I have a mental illness and could have very well been subject to what Christian was subject to back then in the 19th century. I walked around in a stupor while reading Flowers from the Storm, my mind swimming with questions of linguistics, language, communication, illness, religion, and yes, love. I don’t love Maddie, Christian’s caretaker and eventual wife, but I was moved to tears by this novel, which I sought refuge in during a particularly stressful week last summer. Christian and Maddie’s love doesn’t make sense to most people, but it does to them. And that is why it is beautiful.
Oh Will and Lou. As they fell in love I knew it was going to end badly because I’d read a spoiler by accident, but it was still tortured and remarkable. For those who haven’t read it, Lou, a young woman who is quite directionless, takes a job as the personal companion of a man who is a quadriplegic, Will. Initially Will is hateful and horrible to Lou, but eventually he warms up to her, and her to him. They try to deny their feelings…after all, how could it work when so much is stacked against them, including Will’s desire to [spoiler alert] take his life? [end spoiler] Their awkward denial of their feelings and the blossoming of a world only they can understand is heartbreaking and moving. I did not cry when I finished this novel as many did, but I felt that this was a story that stuck with me.
I am planning on rereading this soon and in fact got it out of the library today after a smoking dream in which I married Bradley Cooper, hot damn! I gotta say it, I was more impressed by the movie, but still. This story rocks. Tiffany is a classic hot mess and probably suffers from borderline personality disorder. Pat is himself struggling with a new reality after his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and recent release from a mental hospital. What I love about this story is that Pat and Tiffany are dealing with their issues together and they are rejecting the idea that everyone has to cover up their grief and their pain, just suck it up and deal. The truth is, my life and that of people who experience mental illness is different from other people’s. You have to adjust your expectations of what your future looks like. I love that Tiffany and Pat are strength for each other, that they try new things together. I also love how Pat and Tiffany’s families were shown as supportive and nurturing (more so in the movie). It is crucial for families to support their loved ones with mental illness. So, bravo.
I truly believe this book deserves the hype and will explore that in a forthcoming post. I’ve read two other John Green books (Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns), and I think this is his best. Why? Because of the way it depicts illness. I have nothing in common with Hazel and Gus’ diagnosis, but I do have their reality in common. When you’re sick, when you’re ill and are reminded of it every day, very rarely do you come across someone who “gets it.” Hazel and Gus, they just work together. Hazel is scared to fall in love, scared of what it means, scared that it will all end badly, but she gives in and gives it her all. Their love is yes tragic, but they don’t care. They insulate themselves from the cruelty of the hand they were dealt and tackle the world together. The Fault in Our Stars is one for the ages.
Damn, this book. Eleanor and Park were up against it, poverty and bullying and domestic violence and ostracism from their peers. But they made it work. How can anyone forget the final line, just three words or whatever? I once read that The Sopranos shouldn’t be knocked because of its controversial ending mid-scene. The article said that by doing this the show lives on forever because we will always be debating what happens. In that way, the dialogue sustains long past the air date. I feel that way with E & P. It was also one of those books that is just so well written. Rainbow Rowell just has a way about her, her prose sings, it soars.
Wow, this book is nuts and perhaps defines the crazy, beautiful love trope. Heathcliff, the Byronic orphan, is raised alongside Catherine. He loves her, worships her, but they can never be together because of his social standing and lack of a proper education. This one has it all: a love triangle, bitter jealousy, malice, revenge, early death, illness, and more. Heathcliff is so emotional he could give Karl Ove Knausgaard a run for his money. He does not feel anything lightly, least of all his passionate love for Catherine. This novel’s impact is felt to this day. For example, I’m currently reading Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, and Lennie the heroine reads and rereads and rereads again Emily Bronte’s classic novel. Damn.
Derek is by all accounts a total rake, a bastard who overcame odds to rise to the top of society and make a fortune in the gambling business. He is crude and rude, and yet Sara Fielding, an author and happy spinster, falls in love with him, and him with her. It’s totally nuts, right? Except it totally works. Sara is one of the strongest female characters in romance fiction that I’ve met. She sticks to her guns and stands up for herself and her profession. And her love for Derek. These characters were so dynamic, it’s incredible to watch them as they defy all societal pressure and conventions and give in to their crazy, beautiful love.
Okay maybe I’m a little biased here because I’m currently taking a creative writing workshop taught by Heather. But I enrolled in that class because of I’ll Meet You There, so far one of my top read books in 2015. This novel explores the budding relationship between Skylar and Josh. Josh is by all accounts an asshole at the start of the book, or at least that is how he is remembered from pre-deployment to Afghanistan. Then his leg gets blown off and he has to come home, battling guilt, regret, and the uncomfortable knowledge that life isn’t going to be the same for him from this day forward. Fortunately he finds solace in Skylar who is on the fence about whether she will leave their middle-of-nowhere town and go to college in San Francisco. The two take up their old jobs working at a motel and a friendship and then romance forms. They have to navigate Josh’s insecurities and the practical realities of loving a wounded warrior. Sky has to make a choice about whether she will stay or go. The language is so real, so gritty, so raw, as is their relationship. I read it in less than two days.
Henry…my first dreamboat librarian. The Time Traveler’s Wife is carried by Henry, imo, but his lover Clare is also a likable heroine. Their love definitely qualifies as crazy and beautiful because Henry’s condition as a sporadic time traveler means they know when he is going to die. Yet they still forge ever on and love one another. I read this book when I was first starting to read again after I graduated from college. The story of Clare and Henry, so twisted and wonderful, was enchanting to me, even though I had to knock a star off because they spent a good, I don’t know, 100 pages on the drama of whether or not Clare could get pregnant (sorry but I DON’T care!). Still, it’s a novel that demands to be reread.
Ending on a classic note here. Goddamn I love this story. I got to junior year of college before I read it, but I remember flipping the pages in my dorm room, retreating from my world and into Jane’s as I rooted for her to get with Mr. Rochester. In some ways it is one of my all-time favorite novels. That being said, I believe Charlotte Bronte’s Villette to be her best work, but it is lacking in the crazy side of love so I can’t technically count it. No matter. Jane Eyre has endless delights for readers, and I have rewatched the Cary Fukunaga-directed adaptation (2011) time and time again. I mean, Michael Fassbender, am I right?
Here’s hoping you find your own crazy, beautiful love someday, dear reader.