7 Books About Break-Ups and Heartbreaks
The best way to get over love and lust is to immerse yourself in someone else's pain
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The best way to get over a breakup is to throw yourself into art and experience the catharsis of observing someone else’s pain. For some, this might be listening to Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours on repeat. For others, perhaps a double feature of Lost in Translation and Her. For readers, the post-breakup reading list should be carefully curated to allow an emotional purge. A story about another person’s heartbreak simultaneously makes the reader feel justified in their misery and ridiculous for thinking that they are alone in the pain of lost love.
Whether it’s you doing the heartbreaking, receiving it, or even if it was a painless transition to a new normal, here is a list of books to help get you through it.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Heartbreak can materialize in countless forms. For some, it’s a visceral feeling. For some, it’s an intellectual phenomenon. For Maggie Nelson, heartbreak is the color blue. Borrowing theory from philosophers and writers who have pontificated on color, from Wittgenstein to Goethe, Nelson constructs a cerebral account of a broken heart through her relationship to blue.
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Sometimes it is more painful to experience the deterioration of a friendship than to pick up the pieces of a heart after a breakup. Choi’s novel, set in a competitive performing arts high school with morally ambiguous faculty, chronicles the opposing stories of two friends whose lust for boys and men pushes them farther and farther apart until the only thing left in the wreckage is jealousy and bruised memories. The relationships in Trust Exercise—from the messy, passionate fling between teenagers to the deeply problematic intimacy between students and teachers—offer a sweeping and thorough display of the ways that heartbreak can occur.
The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector
The Hour of the Star is a man’s intrusive narration of an uneducated, though ceaselessly curious, woman named Macabea whose boyfriend cheats on her with her coworker. The reader is only allowed to engage with Macabea through an unreliable narrator obsessed with himself and his writing, leaving us only a small glimpse of her experience and echoes the lack of autonomy that she is permitted in her abusive relationship. Lispector’s novella uncovers the consequences of ardent yearning without self-government.
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
The breakup in Broder’s experimental and fantastical novel is imbued with a dark metaphor. Death and love are immutably tied. In French, the term for orgasm, le petit mort, literally means the little death. The Pisces explores the depth of this connection with a desolate protagonist who projects her lust and suicidal ideation on a mythical, aquatic creature. To commit to this aberrant relationship means to leave her organic life behind entirely, to give in to an extraordinary passion that will end in a loss of consciousness. And yet, to walk away, to leave this creature and this unparalleled ardor, is unthinkable.
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Set in rural Minnesota at the turn of the 21st-century, Freedom depicts the demise of a marriage and the expansive consequences. The five-part novel revolves around the titular theme of freedom: the heart of American pride that can be defined in as many ways as there are people in the country, and the ways in which the search for this elusive objective affects the way we relate to one another. Told from varying perspectives, this narrative allows the reader to comprehend the enormity of a broken marriage and the countless ways that one divorce can be understood by the people affected.
Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory: Stories by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Bojack Horseman, the darkly comedic animated series created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, you’re probably familiar with the gut-wrenching humor that saturates this collection of anti-love stories. Written in an unconventional and amusingly absurdist style, Bob-Waksberg leads you through a maze of heartbreaks—ranging from a Craigslist missed connection post to a fairytale about a man who can visit an alternate reality in which he still loves his partner. Though every story is set in an entirely strange and novel world, they are all tied together by the eerie way in which Bob-Waksberg reaches into the darkest part of your mind and reveals the things about love that you were afraid to face.
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
In Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson rewrites the story of Herakles and a red, winged monster, originally told by the Greak poet Stesichoros. In the style of Stesichoros, Carson writes her bildungsroman novel in verse from the perspective of Geryon as his infatuation with Herakles inevitably leads to agony. Through the journey of this complex and unrequited love, Geryon actively seeks to discover himself. Devising his autobiography with sculpture, photographs, and words, he explores what it means to be the monster of his own story.