What authors read on Valentine's Day
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No, I didn't just Google the word "romance" to come up with this. I actually remember the book fondly: John Casey's "An American Romance." It's a beautifully written story (something typical for Casey) of a love affair in the theater. It mixes art and passion and heartbreak. It's a great romantic read, and it's a portrayal that doesn't make all theater people look like antic little egomaniacs.Skip to next paragraph
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Rachel Basch 's "The Passion of Reverend Nash" was a Monitor top five pick in 2003.
"Bel Canto," by Ann Patchett, is an evocative illustration not only of romantic love, but of the passion for art, in this case music. The form and tone of the novel conspire to offer readers the experience of falling in love. Patchett's sensory descriptions reshape our own imaginations. To read this book is to come under a spell, to continually deny the reality of the tragic ending foretold right at the start. Well into the novel, Patchett writes of one of her many heroes that his "understanding that he would eventually lose every sweetness that had come to him only made him hold those very things closer to his chest."
Beth Lordan published "But Come Ye Back" last year.
I love Edith Wharton's "Age of Innocence." The story of Newland Archer and May, his appropriate bride, brought to the edge of disaster by his love affair with Ellen, May's inappropriate cousin, honors the reality and rarity of passionate romantic love while, to my eye, honoring as well the reality and importance of duty and responsibility that make marriages (and societies, and therefore families) possible. Still, every time I read the book, I wish they could be free to run away together and find out what that kind of love could grow into.
Dave King 's debut novel, "The Ha-Ha," was published in December.
At the outset of Henry James's "The American," Christopher Newman impulsively steps away from his fabulous business empire and sets off for Paris in search of a wife. A flirtation with a young painter is followed by Newman's star-crossed pursuit of Claire de Cintré, daughter of a corrupt aristocrat. "The American" is particular in that the lovers are actually heartbreakingly in love. Here's the rare James novel where neither one shams love for financial or social gain. The two lovers' lack of cynicism is also the reason this is the master's most romantic work.
Dan Chaon published his debut novel, "You Remind Me of Me," last year.
Matt Ruff's novel "Set This House in Order" is about a man and woman who both have multiple personality disorders. This is, of course, a situation we frequently encounter in real life. It's a sweet and funny book about the tribulations of self-knowledge and communication, and if nothing else, it will make readers' own romantic entanglements seem much more manageable.
Arthur Phillips 's debut novel, "Prague," was a Monitor top five pick in 2002. He published "The Egyptologist" last fall.
I retreat from prose to poetry. Romance seems more promising over a short span, where no ending is required. A novel either ends with a wedding or heartbreak, but a poem is full of renewable potential, constantly at the beginning. Try Oxford's "A Book of Love Poetry." It's hard not to hit the right note. For me, Byron's "She Walks in Beauty," John Betjeman's "Subaltern's Love Song," and John Ransom Crowe's "Piazza Piece" among many others, never seem to get too stale to murmur into the appropriate ear.
Masha Hamilton is a foreign correspondent who published a novel called "The Distance Between Us" last year.