When I moved back to New York City after graduate school I lived for a while in a 3-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side with my brother and sister. I am the oldest—my younger sister was a student at Columbia, and my younger brother was beginning as a Wall Street analyst. And I worked as a cater waiter and then a steak house waiter while I wrote my first novel.
During that time I began giving my siblings books to read, as they’re both very literary. I remember my sister sighing in my doorway as she returned Lorrie Moore’s Like Life and she said, Everything you give me to read is about doomed love. What’s up with that?
My brother poked his head into the room. Yes, he said. What is up with that?
I shrugged, a little abashed. Was it true? It was. I remembered this when I saw that Maud Newton had done a list for The Week of her favorite novels of doomed love, in honor of the publication of Love Is A 4 Letter Word, a new anthology of true stories of doomed love edited by Michael Taeckens and just out from Plume. Moonrat soon followed suit.
I thought, I know something about this. Here are some of my favorite novels of doomed love (besides my own).
- Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin I think this might be the most exalted, and perhaps my favorite of the group. A young American spends a night awake reflecting on his life-changing love affair with an Italian barman who will be executed at dawn for a murder of passion.
- The Passion, by Jeanette Winterson Really, two doomed loves instead of one. A cook for the first Napoleon and a Venetian card-dealer with a secret come into each other’s lives and never quite leave. This summary makes it sound dull, but it’s still one of my favorite novels.
- Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson Carson reaches into Greek myth for the story of Hercules killing the red monster Geryon, and manages to make one of its smallest events into something amazing.
- The Children’s Hospital, by Chris Adrian This novel of God going back on his covenant and flooding the world a second time is also about a brother’s love for his sister, turned into something unholy and world-shattering, literally, as the two siblings become God’s agents for the making of a New World, one acting from Heaven, the other, Earth.
- The Spell, by Alan Hollinghurst This book gets beat up a bit by those who don’t like it, but those who do, I think, rightly see the way it looks deeply into contemporary gay culture and the age gap both with its mix of of mixed-up lovers. I got to the end and loved it desperately.
- First Love, by Ivan Turgenev A novella. At a dinner party, the guests are invited to describe their first loves, and the narrator is the one who must pause a day before responding.
- The Death of Speedy, by Los Bros Hernandez Love and Rockets. All of the stories about Maggie and Hopey are technically about Doomed Love, but the barrio cholo Speedy who steals Maggie’s heart and then falls for her sister Esther is a sort of comics classic.
- Astonishing X-Men, by Joss Whedon with John Cassaday The 1-25-issue run of this comic featured the return of a favorite X-Man (not Jean Grey again) and the loss of another, and is one of my newest favorite doomed love stories.