For those who find themselves alone this Valentine's Day, or who reject the holiday altogether, you might not want to read about star-crossed lovers pining for each other and — even worse — winding up together in the end. So here are three alternatives to comfort you this Feb 14. Each novel is just the right length to read in a single night with a box of drugstore-bought chocolates. And although these tales are indeed reflections on love, the characters they follow are skeptics. Whether or not their heroes succeed romantically, they will make you embrace the idea of going at it alone on a day when we feel nothing but pressure to pair up.
This novel chronicles one week in the life of Kenny Becker, a young door-to-door salesman who throws away a stagnant, albeit loving, relationship with his amateur-singer girlfriend, La Donna. Kenny is the living, breathing definition of a sex addict, and when he banishes La Donna from his life, he is left to his own lascivious devices. It's the story of a lonely, depraved Valentine's week in New York City circa 1978. When Kenny isn't on the floor of his apartment doing his daily sit-ups, he's out roaming a Times Square littered with peep shows, and a Greenwich Village booming with gay sex clubs. The reader follows Kenny as he moves through an underworld of cheap sex and empty feelings. And did I mention this is hilarious? For anyone familiar with Price's later tough-talking, criminal-investigation novels, this earlier one will delight you with its rapid-fire one-liners and offbeat humor.
Dorothy Baker's novel is the tragicomic tale of Cassandra Edwards, a Berkeley grad student who returns to her family's California ranch to attend her twin sister's wedding. Cassandra's the type of heroine who may decide to stop at a roadside bar for vodka, or make drunken calls from a pay phone hoping that her sister Judith will talk her down from doing anything impulsive. This classic weekend-wedding set-up is a tipsy comedy of manners and rumination on love's ultimate unfairness. Cassandra sets out, intent on sabotaging the marriage with sly insults and a fistful of pills. Because the sisterly bond she once had with Judith is now threatened, her world comes spiraling down, and we can't help but watch her fall. And it is Cassandra's faults, her coy, everywoman on the verge of proper adulthood that will comfort you through the night.
Nathanael West's classic short novel is the story of a newspaper columnist — a man who receives letters of heartbreak from the city's desperate souls. He comforts them in his weekly column, offering not only advice about love, but solace and escape from their depressed and unfortunate lives. But Miss Lonelyhearts himself may be one of the most desperate, an unsatisfied man searching for meaning in what he sees as a morally bankrupt city. West's novel is also a brilliant period piece of Depression-era New York. Set in speak-easies and newsrooms, its hero is one tainted by love's darker side — the affairs, the broken engagements — and its ultimate failure to bring about true happiness.
So whatever your pleasure on this most Hallmark of holidays — the comedic sex-capades of an addict, the redemption of a California gal, or a peek into love's dark past, I hope you find your own solace in one of these truly memorable blue valentines.
Alex Gilvarry is the author ofFrom the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant.
Three Books...is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman and Andrew Otis.