The path to love rarely follows a straight line, and no one knows that better than the authors that appear on our list of seven unconventional love stories. The first title on the list comes from debut author Laura Warrell. Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm explores passion and risk, jazz and soul, as the women who love Circus Palmer—trumpet player and old-school ladies’ man—discover the power of their own voices. Featuring fathers, daughters, wives, mothers, and single women, Warrell takes a deep look at love, in all of its messy, painful, and wonderful forms.
“Told in a rich array of voices, this gorgeously written debut explores the myriad syncopations of love and desire. Laura Warrell writes with an enormous understanding of human nature, a boundless sympathy for life’s complications, and a keen eye for life’s unexpected joys.” —Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
It’s 2013, and Circus Palmer, a forty-year-old Boston-based trumpet player and old-school ladies’ man, lives for his music and refuses to be tied down. Before a gig in Miami, he learns that the woman who is secretly closest to his heart, the free-spirited drummer Maggie, is pregnant by him. Instead of facing the necessary conversation, Circus flees, setting off a chain of interlocking revelations from the various women in his life. Most notable among them is his teenage daughter, Koko, who idolizes him and is awakening to her own sexuality even as her mentally fragile mother struggles to overcome her long-failed marriage and rejection by Circus. Delivering a lush orchestration of diverse female voices, Warrell spins a provocative, soulful, and gripping story of passion and risk, fathers and daughters, wives and single women, and, finally, hope and reconciliation, in answer to the age-old question: how do we find belonging when love is unrequited?
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
“Utterly brilliant. In this sweeping, gorgeously written novel, Gabrielle Zevin charts the beauty, tenacity, and fragility of human love and creativity. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is one of the best books I’ve ever read.” —John Green
On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom.
Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love.
The Only Story by Julian Barnes
“Beautifully done. . . . Heartrending.” —NPR
One summer in the sixties, in a staid suburb south of London, nineteen-year-old Paul comes home from university and is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. There he’s partnered with Susan Macleod, a fine player who’s forty-eight, confident, witty, and married, with two nearly adult daughters. She is a warm companion, her bond with Paul immediate. And soon, inevitably, they are lovers.
Decades later, Paul looks back at how they fell in love and how—gradually, relentlessly—everything fell apart. Poignant, vivid and profound, The Only Story is a searing novel of memory, devotion, and how first love fixes a life forever.
“This shining and heartbreaking novel may be one of the greatest love stories ever told.” —The New York Times Book Review
In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs–yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.
“Norwegian Wood not only points to but manifests the author’s genius.” —Chicago Tribune
Toru, a serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. As Naoko retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.
A magnificent coming-of-age story steeped in nostalgia, Norwegian Wood blends the music, the mood, and the ethos that were the sixties with a young man’s hopeless and heroic first love.
“Part love story, part fable, and a knockout debut. . . . The Night Circus defies both genres and expectations.” —The Boston Globe
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences.
“A delicate, sneakily devastating evocation of place and character. . . . The novel is quiet but never complacent.” —The New Yorker
In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades. Addie and Louis have long been living alone in empty houses, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with. But maybe that could change? As Addie and Louis come to know each other better—their pleasures and their difficulties—a beautiful story of second chances unfolds.
“Intensely absorbing. . . . O’Farrell writes novels in which you can happily lose yourself.” —NPR
Daniel Sullivan leads a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn, and his wife, Claudette, is a reclusive ex–film star given to pulling a gun on anyone who ventures up their driveway. Together, they have made an idyllic life in the country, but a secret from Daniel’s past threatens to destroy their meticulously constructed and fiercely protected home.