I’m not always interested in books about reciprocal love, but I’m more interested in books about longing, which is a lot more dangerous. Longing doesn’t need to be mutual, or even for the person you’re longing for to know that you’re interested in them. It doesn’t make hunger go away, but it makes it stronger. The books on this list turn the story of longing into a kind of exorcism, an attempt to free the mind by writing down the object of one’s desire. Writers, on the other hand, can become obsessed with their fictional characters and become very attached to them. At the time I was writing my book, I thought it was the most one-sided relationship I’d ever had.
The End of the Story by Lydia Davis
Neither the narrator of this book nor the subject of the book claims to be unique in any way. An accident seems to have led the speaker to fall in love with a guy who isn’t named. Davis pays close attention to what the mind does when it doesn’t want to let go, and how one might try to get someone out of its clutch. A kind of “detachment” is shown in this story, which is told in retrospect. “I didn’t have him, but I had this writing and he couldn’t take it away from me,” says the person who used to be the person the story is about. For this reason, the story is told. To read it when you’re sad is a very precise and mathematical way to get better.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Nelson’s mind is made up of 240 fragments of prose, facts, and quotations that build up into a lattice-like structure that makes you feel like you’re inside his head. A place where there is a lot of sadness and blue. I’m interested in how heartbroken storytellers find a new audience to speak to in the place of their loved one, when other communication channels have been cut off by the death of that person. There may be a reason Nelson didn’t feel romantic when he found out that Nelson kept Nelson’s last letter with him all the time and didn’t open it for months on end. This may have been useful to you, but I’m sure it had nothing to do with me. When I wrote this, I didn’t want to give you a talisman or anything like that. I wrote it because I had something to say to people. It’s so light and thin that you can always have this book with you.
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
This book came out in 1997 and quickly became a cult favorite. It was reprinted in 2015, and it became a TV show that I’m not sure about. It blurs all the lines between fiction, essays, memoirs, and a few other things, too, as it goes along. Chris, the artist at the heart of the book, falls in love with Dick the first time they meet. In therapy, she and her husband, who is older and more successful, write letters to Dick. They briefly reignite their sexless marriage by “finally inhabiting the same space at the same time,” as Dick puts it. In this case, when they start to send the (unanswered) letters, they start to think of it as a project for the art class. It slowly becomes a vehicle for Chris’s freedom and a source of inspiration for her own ideas about art, love, and being a woman.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Neither me, nor anyone else who knows about this, needs to say anything about it. For those who don’t know: It was Margaret Garner, a runaway slave, who inspired Morrison. She killed her own child instead of letting it be caught. Morrison then makes this real-life story, the history and legacy of slavery, into a story by setting the reader in a world where ghosts are real. The horrors of slavery make ghosts seem like a certainty. I am in awe of Morrison’s characterization, the strength of the love she describes, and how she treats the demons with compassion. Then Amy, a poor white woman, did the magic: She lifted Sethe’s feet and legs and massaged them until Sethe cried salt tears. Morrison says this: Amy said, “It’s going to hurt now.” “Anything that is dead coming back to life hurts.”
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Eugenides is very good at dark humor, and his Greek chorus of infatuated boys who have become grown men do a great job of framing the story without getting in the way. It’s not that they want to get close to the girls, but that they’re fascinated by the ephemera of female adolescence and the myths that surround them. Afterward, the girls become bigger than life, just like the laminated Virgin Mary Cecilia clings to after she cut her wrists. When the boys don’t know everything, they imagine things to fill in some of the gaps in their knowledge. The boys know that even though they are dedicated, they aren’t quite ready for the job at hand. There is a lot more to female subjectivity than the parts they’ve found and are trying to figure out.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
This time, Chris is infatuated with a literary Dick. Dickie Greenleaf is one of the literary Dicks that Chris mentioned in one of her I Love Dick letters. Tom Ripley is the narcissistic protagonist of five Highsmith novels, and many fans think he has a personality disorder because of this. It only lasts a short time, but Dickie’s attention makes Tom feel like a person. “Anticipation! It came to him that the anticipation was more pleasant to him than the experience itself. Tom’s fetishization of Dickie makes him stay away from Tom. Dickie’s silence is making Tom angry, so he kills him and takes Dickie’s name. Highsmith is very good at making people think Dickie’s death was suicide. This means that Dickie’s death (which Tom convinces others to think was suicide) starts a psychological study of longing and guilt.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
During the same time as Nirvana’s Nevermind or clip-on earrings, I read Lolita for the first time at the age of 13. I did this in the same way. This meant I didn’t get to enjoy the humor, the sadness, and a lot of other things. This time, I read it again and laughed out loud at Humbert’s clever moves. He makes a complicated dance in order to get what he wants. No, I didn’t skip any of the less sexy parts. In the epilogue, Nabokov talks about how Lolita came to be a “throb.” One of the things that made him want to destroy the book was the thought that the ghost of the book would haunt his files for the rest of his life. He tried to kill off the short story, but was stopped by the thought that it would haunt his files for a long time. He could, of course, be talking about Humbert’s love. When the book came out, many people were disgusted by Nabokov’s nymphet. Even though many people haven’t read the book, it has become part of our culture even if they haven’t.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
An interview with Moshfegh that I read before I knew who she was was very angry at people who wanted to know why and how she made her protagonist, Eileen, so unlikable. She also hit back at the idea that Eileen is some kind of freak or monster. When Trump is in the White House, this seems like a pointless question. To read Eileen, I had to read that. Following the end of Sympathy, I did so. It made me both happy and surprised to find a line that was almost exactly the same as a line I had written in my book. I found it eerie to read, but then Moshfegh and I talked about a similar situation between two women. Her book talks about a lot of different things, but it’s mostly about women who are isolated, longing, and imprisoned. In this case, the reader meets it on its own terms, rather than based on the blurb. It turns out to be great.