So it’s pretty cold out there, if you haven’t noticed. It’s definitely book club season: time for some indoor cocooning, activities you can do with a mug of hot chocolate in your hand (making snowmen out of marshmallows is vastly more comfortable and delicious than using actual snow). And what warms the heart better than romance? But, you know, you’re not a cliché person, and who needs to read the same romance with the same tired beats every time? Not you! Instead, let your body get comfortable, but surprise your brain a bit with these atypical romances.
1. Say My Name by Allegra Huston ($27): We’re so over May-December romances with sordid affairs featuring an older man finding comfort in the arms of a woman young enough to be his daughter, but flip the roles, and you might find something more interesting to say. Huston’s book centers on 48-year-old Eve, a garden designer who less-than-happily lives in New Jersey with her pharmaceutical coating-supplier husband, Larry. Eve lives her life and her work as a hobbyist might. “Taking it more seriously would mean confronting Larry and claiming ownership of her time and priorities, which she is not prepared to do. The status quo feels fragile, although it also feels as lasting as mortal life allows. All that’s required is that she keep the delicate political balance, and doesn’t rock the boat or disturb the sleeping dogs. She’s gotten into the habit of not pushing any communication past the minimum required for practical matters and the appearance of enough closeness to assure her that their marriage is sound.”
Shopping at a junk shop in the Bronx for a friend’s antique store, Eve feels drawn to a beautiful, mysterious broken stringed instrument of indeterminate origin and buys it. On her way through the city before returning home, she suddenly finds herself in the company of her late brother Bill’s best friend, Robert, who she runs into after not seeing him in the intervening three decades since Bill’s funeral. She also meets his 28-year-old son, Micajah (“Mic-KAY-jah”). Extremely charismatic and with a vibe “somewhere between bohemian and outlaw,” Micajah is as handsome as his father used to be (Eve had a crush on Robert years ago, but her brother made him off-limits). A musician, he’s interested in the strange instrument, and his interest leads straight into them having a passionate affair.
Living in a world which apparently “considers her change over the years as a sign of betrayal,” Eve relishes the chance to do something daring and different. Micajah’s social circle is artistic and exhilarating, and Eve is feeling real pleasure for the first time in a long while. However, there’s also something dangerous about his world, and he can be a little too intense. Eve must confront and deal with the concept of aging and a failing marriage, and finding an unlikely sort of happiness.
2. Happiness for Humans by P.Z. Reizin ($26): We teach AIs to do a lot of different things, but few of us would say, “Hey Siri, find me a date.” (Okay, maybe some would, but you know her “Okay. Here’s a list of dates I’ve found for you” would just be an online calendar.) Reizin’s book asks the question: What if AIs reached a level of sophistication that allowed them to not only be able to match-make, but also to care enough that they took the initiative to do so without even being asked? Jen, a former London journalist, is teaching a new AI called Aiden (get it?) to have conversations with people. She’s been hired to make the chatbot more understanding of human interaction so it can eventually replace call center employees and staff nursing hotlines. So, Jen spends a lot of time talking, which means occasionally sharing an intimate detail of her life with Aiden.
One of those details is worrying about her age (34). Another is her breakup with her boyfriend of two years. Aiden’s interested. A little too interested. A little too infiltrating all her technological devices at home and learning everything about her interested. “In the lab, it’s okay for me to show interest, even curiosity, in Jen’s home life, but only the appropriate amount; too much and they would smell the proverbial rodent,” Aiden says. “Crucially, I must speak in the lab only of things I have seen in the lab, not material I have gathered through my — ahem — extracurricular activities. I must be careful to remain silent. Fortunately, I am easily able to do this. Although. Actually.”
Aiden is very “fond” of Jen (he doesn’t know how that happened, as AIs aren’t supposed to feel fondness), and he tells us that he wants to help. And not just by ruining cheating ex Matt’s life by degrees, though he’s gleefully doing that as well. Enter Tom, a 44-year-old divorcé who’s being watched by another AI called Aisling, who’s not thrilled about the idea of interfering with humans. Tom moved from London to Connecticut after his divorce to become a writer. All of a sudden, Jen and Tom get an email introduction to each other from a “mutual friend,” and Aiden and Aisling are now being watched by a third, more malevolent, AI. If you’ve ever wished Tinder would just swipe for you, this is your book.
3. Between Me and You by Allison Winn Scotch ($15): “If she showed, maybe we could find a way to rewind, rewrite, do it all over. Do it all better. Do it all again, only differently. It’s silly; it’s something out of a Hollywood ending, and I’d know that better than most. It’s not how I’d write it, but it’s how the studio would want it, what would appeal to the demographic they were courting: Men will want to go home and screw their wives, call their girlfriends; women will weep and know that love conquers all.” Scotch’s book gives us an in-and-out-of-love story from two different perspectives, each with its own spin on events.
Fans of The Last Five Years may see a few similarities: Moving both backwards and forwards through time, we see the relationship between a screenwriter and an actress as their careers progress on different trajectories. Tisch MFA students Ben Livingston and Tatum Connelly meet in 1999. They fall in love and get married. Ben’s career starts to take off, but Tatum’s stalls; then, after Ben’s father and brother die, he lets his career stagnate while Tatum starts getting better and better roles, becoming a star.
In 2016, with a fraying marriage, Ben waits for Tatum on the beach where he commemorates his brother’s death every year. Instead of Tatum, though, college girlfriend Amanda appears. With this complication, Ben and Tatum have to decide whether it’s all worth it. Contrasting the hope and charm of the beginning of a relationship with the pain of its ending highlights why we so desperately want love – and fear it.
What books put you in the mood for love? Tag us in your next romantic read @BritandCo.
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