7 Books About Long-Distance Relationships
Families, lovers, friends, and more navigate connections that span space and time
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A year ago, I abruptly moved from New York City back to my parents’ house in Southern California. Suddenly, after spending years living with my closest friends and loved ones, I was thousands of miles away. But mine isn’t a unique story—since the start of quarantine roughly a year ago, almost everyone has been separated from the people they care about, from neighbors to favorite coworkers to their closest friends or partners.
But at the same time, over the last year, plenty of new relationships have formed. From starting new jobs to falling in love over TikTok, we are still finding ways to reach out to each other, albeit remotely.
If you feel like you’ve reached the limits of Zoom and Netflix Party, there is a rich history of stories that show ways to persevere through separation. Here are seven books about staying connected across the intervening miles.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
When Patsy, a queer Jamaican mother, sees an opportunity to move to Brooklyn, she takes it, leaving her young daughter, Tru, behind in their working-class neighborhood in Kingston. Once in New York, Patsy dreams of finally being together with her childhood best friend and crush, who has married a man and adapted to a new life. Across the sea, Tru struggles with her own feelings towards her mother, whom she desperately misses, and her relationship to her identity.
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This epistolary novel is split between authors el-Mohtar (writing Blue) and Gladstone (Red), whose characters take turns sending threats and boasts to an opposing agent in a time-traveling war who they are sworn to kill. Amid a world torn apart by collapsed timelines and chaos, Agent Red of the Agency finds a letter from an enemy Garden spy, Blue. The spies poetically weave through time, history, and war, slowly realizing that the soldiers of war have more in common than the powers behind their commands.
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
In 1949 New York, Helene Hanff struggled to grow her collection of antique and rare British literature. Then after seeing a newspaper ad, she started writing to Frank Doel, the chief buyer of Marks & Co., a London-based bookstore. What follows is 20 years of recorded letters. The correspondence of Hanff and Doel may start as stiff, but over the years melts into passionate discussions about obscure authors, a life-long loving friendship, and a testament to finding community an ocean away.
Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung
Pik-Shuen Fung dives into the tale of an “astronaut” family in her forthcoming debut novel. The unnamed protagonist grows up with her mother and grandmother in Canada, while her father stayed in Hong Kong for employment. Years later when he passes, she has to navigate the landscape of grieving for someone who she barely knew both because of his physical and emotional distance. While trying to find answers, she connects with her family through their combined sorrow and love.
Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin
Kentukis, remote-controlled stuffed animals, are ubiquitous and potentially dangerous in Samanta Schweblin’s Little Eyes. Location is not an issue for these creatures as they are connected to an online network, meaning anyone can buy one and become a voyeur across the globe—from Oaxaca to Berlin to Tel Aviv. The characters in these stories navigate this new, almost adorable, form of mass surveillance and discover what it means to be the one watching, and the one being watched.
Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski
Ludwick is a gay Polish man who has recently fled to New York from the Polish People’s Republic. A few summers before while working at an agricultural camp, Ludwick met Janusz, a student and staunch believer in the Communist Party as a way out of debt. The two bond over James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, and over time fall in love in a country that has outlawed their relationship. Told in second person, this novel acts as a letter of reflection to Ludwick’s lover who remains across the world.
Love at the Speed of Email by Lisa McKay
When Lisa McKay received an email from Mike, a humanitarian worker in Papua New Guinea, she wasn’t surprised. After her nomadic childhood and finishing her degree in psychology, Lisa developed a career of coaching and aiding humanitarian workers globally. What Lisa didn’t expect from Mike’s email is that their relationship would blossom into something more and would finally teach her what “home” really means.