Some of my favorite Heart-Yankers:
BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY by Robert James Waller.
The truth can now be revealed: I cried for an hour after finishing this book, AFTER I'd slammed it against the wall in fury. (A friend had lied to me and told me it had a happy ending although I should have read the writing on the wall early on. Maybe I did. But I so hoped against hope!)
ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton
Yegads, who could fail to be moved by this disaster of an ending? I read this book in high school thanks to an exemplary English teacher named Miss Eisenberg. Loved it then and the great classroom discussion we had. (According to Miss E, the book fairly quivers with all sorts of dire symbolism and if we didn't find it, we invented it.) I re-read ETHAN FROME every few years and every damn time I get teary-eyed.
THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This book doesn't make me cry so much as make me shake with outrage. The carelessness of Daisy Buchanan and her husband never fails to repulse me. Poor Gatsby never does realize that he is too good for Daisy - he never stood a chance.
BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh
I was so influenced by the 1980's PBS series that when I read the book afterwards, I could hear the music and imagine Anthony Andrews as Sebastian. I wept for dear, disillusioned, self-indulgent and not very bright, Sebastian. To me, once he leaves the scene, the story becomes more about Charles who is, in my view, much less interesting than Waugh probably would have liked. (I think the character is a bit autobiographical?) The churchy aspects of the novel and film often get in the way of the human aspects but I assume that is what Waugh intended.
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN by Annie Proulx
Though this is, technically, a short-story, it was published separately in book form after the hit film, so I include it. I cry even now when I read about Jack and Ennis - one reason why I can rarely bring myself to read it anymore. The film and story left me spent with sadness. Another reason why, though it is my favorite film of all time, I don't watch it as often as I might. The word 'brilliant' doesn't begin to cover this sad little tale of thwarted love.
Some other Heart-Yankers of a less 'literary' bent, though why I'm qualifying them I don't really know. Force of habit, I suppose. Didn't want Waugh and Wharton and Fitzgerald turning over in their graves. Yes, yes, I know: BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is not a literary classic by any stretch of the imagination, but it's the first full-length book I think of when I think of books that made me weep.
ODD THOMAS by Dean Koontz
Again I should have read the writing on the wall. My heart ached for Odd and his lonely though sensible, self-imposed exile. Jeez, what a fabulous book by Mr. Koontz.
L.A. REQUIEM by Robert Crais
Yes, a thriller can be a heart-yanker, especially a brilliantly written one by a guy who understands that yes, men are capable of real emotion. Joe Pike, enigmatic and righteous soldier of fortune - another self-imposed exile of the heart, but in a different way from Odd Thomas. This book is best read after reading at least two of the previous Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books. THEN Joe (and the story) will really grab your heart and stomp it to bits. (If you're so inclined.)
BY THE RIVERS OF BABYLON by Nelson DeMille.
Another 'thriller' writer who defies expectations. This was his debut book and boy does the ending make you crazy. I cried and cried imagining the whole heroic futility of it. This is a book full of violent upheaval, terrorism, high-jackings, plane crashes, hostages, bleak survival in the hills surrounded by enemies and in the middle of it all, a most improbable (or maybe not so) love story. You will never, EVER forget the ending. I love this book.
Three from Signet's Regency romance line and never mind the hideous covers:
LORD CAREW'S BRIDE by Mary Balogh
Yes, this has a well-deserved happy ending. But it's the getting to that ending that drags you through the wretched mire of heartbreak. (Wretched mire of heartbreak? I like it.) The Marquess of Carew is one of prolific romance author Mary Balogh's most memorable and in certain ways, most heartbreaking characters. Oh how I love that he FINALLY finds happiness. ....sigh!
DANCING WITH CLARA by Mary Balogh
I love this book. Though I don't read it often because, I mean, how many times can you stand having your heart broken? And yes, another one with a happy ending, but it's the getting to it that drags you through the...well, you know. Mary Balogh is such a wonderful writer of romances. She never passes up the opportunity to give each of her stories an unusual twist. And I believe she's one of the few of these type writers to take on forbidden subjects when the need arises. Probably because she does it so well.
THE DUKE'S WAGER by Edith Layton
Layton passed away a couple of years ago so there will be no more stories from this mastermind of the cunning plot and heartfelt characters. The thing that distinguished Layton from all the others is the soupcon of cynicism and social commentary she wove throughout her plots, yet she still managed to come up with the 'happily - more or less - ever after' ending. The male characters in this particular book are such real cads (all three of them) so infuriatingly men of their tired times, so filled with ennui and right of entitlement, so pleased with themselves that finally, when one of them gets his comeuppance, you cheer. After you wipe away a tear or two. And may I say that in this particular book the 'happily ever after' is always in doubt - hard to do when you're supposedly writing 'formula' romance. That was Layton's gift.
Obviously, I'm not embarrassed to admit before the whole wide world that I occasionally read Harlequins and Signets and make something of it if you will. Years ago I would have been embarrassed for sure, but not anymore. Now I don't care if you snicker - one of the few benefits, by the way, of reaching an advanced age and thinking of yourself as a 'righteous old broad.' Ha! Love that line from GUYS AND DOLLS: "...a righteous old broad." (Spoken in the film, by frog voiced B.S. Pully as gambling mob boss Big Jule from Detroit.)
These titles are subject to rearranging at any given moment on any given day. No list you will ever read on my blog is cast in cement. Maybe confounding to some of you, but there it is. I am fickle.
Note: Painting by Pietro Antonio Rotari
(I am never fickle in my love and admiration for Rotari's work.)