Ellen Heltzel: Love Stories

Valentine's Day brings thoughts of love, but the hearts and flowers version is more fantasy than true to life. Book Critic and author, Ellen Heltzel, shared her picks for love stories that feature both the agony and ecstasy of romantic love.

1. "Anna Karenina," by Leo Tolstoy. It has been said that Tolstoy fell in love with the title character while he was writing this classic novel about a tempestuous and fatal affair. Anna is a married woman who falls for a dashing soldier in 19th-century Russia. Her determination to defy her husband and convention sets the course of a story now imaginatively retold in a new film version of "Anna." Jane Austen wrote romances that usually ended at the altar, all proper and nice. You sense early on that this one, with the Russian sense of the tragic, is destined to end badly. Is it romantic -- or just plain crazy -- to sacrifice everything for love?

2. "Rebecca," by Daphne du Maurier. This 1930s number is often called the top Gothic romance of the 20th century, and rightly so. The ingredients: a remote estate on the coast of Cornwall; the inscrutable master of the domain, Maxim de Winter; an imperious housekeeper, and the intimidated second wife, who narrates the story. This is a period piece focusing on what really happened to the first Mrs. de Winter, a.k.a. Rebecca. A stage version of "Rebecca" was destined for Broadway this year until it was trumped by another mystery: whether an anonymous investor who was supposed to help underwrite the show ever really existed.

3. "The Odds: A Love Story," by Stewart O'Nan. A little gem of a book, this short novel tells the story of a couple who are down and out on their luck and spending a last weekend at Niagara Falls before they file for divorce. Too much water over the cliff, so to speak. But sometimes life takes an unexpected turn that can change how two people feel about life, and about each other. Love is a gamble, in this case a literal one.

4. "The Beginner's Goodbye," by Anne Tyler. Tyler's long string of novels are full of characters who are odd and risk-averse. So it's no surprise that the Mr. Peeps in this story, a self-effacing fellow named Aaron, sees his world collapse after a tree falls and ends the life of his better half, the forthright Dorothy. For anyone who has loved and lost -- like, really lost -- this is a sweet story about how one bereaved partner manages his sorrow.

5. "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain. Ernest Hemingway went through wives like most men go through cars -- he seemed to have a new model every 10 or so years. But in this lovely fictional retelling of his first marriage, you see Hemingway before he was famous and feel the thrill of first love as a young couple starts their life together in Paris during the Jazz Age. Once again, the ending is not happily ever after. But it does show how Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson, becomes stronger and more self-possessed even as her marriage is unraveling. 

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