Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Salon: Favorite Fiction Heart-Yankers

...Sigh! Okay, how can a book that makes you cry be a favorite? Oh, easy. And I must say that usually, a favorite crybaby read has something or other to do with Romance - though not always. I listed some of my fictional happy ending favorites a couple of days ago. So how about those other books you love EVEN IF THEY MAKE YOU CRY, yank your heart out and throw it in the garbage. Know what I mean? Heart-Yankers. (Even if some of them do manage, somehow, to have 'happy' endings anyway.) Theoretic SPOILERS lie below.

Some of my favorite Heart-Yankers:

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.

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.

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.)

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:

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!

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.)


  1. I'd love to recommend favorite book BOYS AND GIRLS TOGETHER by William Goldman.

  2. Yvette, wonderful post as always.

    I only read "Bridges of Madison County," here and cried and threw the book, too. Then called a "senior" friend of mine, who also cries easily, and criticized the ending. She, who is a parent, said women couldn't leave their children, and run off, so she understood the ending. I still complained.

    Glad to see you also were aggravated.

    Anyway, Readers' Bill of Rights: You can read any book you darn well want to read. It's one of the great pleasures of life. Would anyone say which artists or musicians one should like?

    Individual taste in books, music, movies, art--even decorating, dress, jewelry, food--is so fascinating.

    Everyone I know has different taste in books; some books most people like, some polarize people strongly one way or the other.

    But it never ceases to amaze me. I like to buy books at discounts and share them, even sharing library books, but I have to remember who has what taste, who likes one author, who hates that author. It's like juggling plates.

    But it's all fun.

    And if people don't agree with your taste, well then, say, "So, sue me"!

    I just find this reading of blogs to be such a learning and enjoyable experience, expanding my scope of experience. I always learn something.

  3. Anonymous: Thanks for the recommendation. I'll check it out.

  4. Kathy: Ah, another BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY violent encounter. Ha! I wonder how many of us read this book and reacted the same way. The result: Lots of smashed books. I always thought her sacrifice was too great. But I don't really know for sure, never having been faced with that choice. I always felt she should have tried harder to find him, once her husband passed away. When she receives that box of camera equipment near the end. OMG, I wept buckets!!

    Didn't know there was a 'Readers' Bill of Rights' - Love it! I agree wholeheartedly with you. Read what you want. I do.

    I also enjoy going from blog to blog and seeing what everyone's reading. But, like you, Kathy, I am a bit overhwhelmed by ALL the choices. So much to read, so little time, for damn sure!

    I used to care about my reading tastes and what it might all mean. Now, I say, so what. So, sue me. HA!

    I find that on some blogs there is some 'sniffing' at books that are not considered 'literary', but I just think those people are missing out on lots of good reading and some pretty fine authors. Their loss.

  5. The first book that made me cry was "Mrs Mike" by Benedict and Nancy Mars Freedman. I read it in junior high, so many years ago. It made such an impression on me that I've never forgotten it.

  6. Pat: You've stumped me. I've never heard of it. Books are such an indvidual thing, aren't they? Not mention, emotions. :)

  7. Yvette, I was curious if you ever read it. I looked it up yesterday on google and came upon this essay on by author Peggy Orenstein on how Mrs. Mike influenced her:

    As she said I'm sure I'd find the book sappy after 50+ years of life, but it will always be a book I'll remember.

  8. Pat: I've just finished reading the essay. Wow. Thanks for the link. You know, reading is such an empowering thing, a powerful tool. Some books make such important differences in our lives. I was taken, too, with the Freedman's story. Someone should write that up or make a movie of it. What fabulous people!

    I don't know that I'd want to read Mrs. Mike now for the first time. It sounds as if it would not resonate for me in the right way. But possibly the time will come when I will get a copy for my Julianna.


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