With Valentine’s Day upon us, the Sundog Lit editors are reflecting on their favorite fictional love stories, as well as how movies and literature have shaped the definition of love for the masses.
I’m not a real love kind of person at all. I haven’t even seen The Notebook either, take what I tell you with a grain of salt. Either way, Waiting to Exhale, Deliver Us from Eva, and Moonlight are integral pieces of fictional love that’s built and delivered in realistic ways, making them my favorite love stories. In Waiting to Exhale, Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria and Robin are all in their own failures of love as single, Black, female Arizonians. So, it’s not necessarily the idea of rosy love that has me hooked. It’s the realness of it. Bernadine gets left for a white woman, which means she needs to love herself whole again. Gloria is loveless for about a decade. Robin is stuck in balancing career, self respect and true love. Savannah is sleeping with a man with a sick daughter and a wife (This man really said his wife called about their sick daughter, just for him to tell Savannah she’s the most important person in his life right after that…are men okay?) The common denominator in Waiting to Exhale is the radical exercise of self-love and love of friendship. Platonic soulmates are just as important as the romantic love we all chase.
Deliver Us from Eva is me. Hard working, somewhat the cornerstone of my family dynamic, and just too busy to be loved by someone part time. So to watch Gabrielle Union and L.L. Cool J eliminate Eva’s inability to trust or love together for a happily ever after whilst keeping the abundant career, makes me happy. Moonlight is the Black millenial queer love story. Witnessing two Black men loving each other was so beautiful in itself. Barry Jenkins and James Laxton emphasized the hidden softness in the way Chiron and Kevin explored their sexuality as children just for that to be the foundation of their love. It felt real because you remember the people you leave behind to forget who you are, and Kevin won’t allow Chiron to forget him as he solidifies his space in Black manhood. Plus Trevonte Rhodes is carved from God’s BEST material. Jesus Christ.
— Amber D. Dodd, Assistant Nonfiction Editor
I’m one of those cries-at-Toy Story saps, so pretty much any love story will get me. With that said, I’m especially into any queer or nonhuman love stories. There’s a beautiful love story with a heartbreaking ending that pops up in the last segment of Carmen Maria Machado’s “Inventory” which breaks my soul. I’m also quite taken with the kind of love that blooms in her story “Haunt,” though both of those are simultaneously heartbreaking. If you’re looking for short, sweet, and tear-jerking, I was floored when I read the title story of Matthew Fogarty’s Maybe Mermaids and Robots are Lonely. What a pairing!
— Hayli May Cox, Assistant Nonfiction Editor
In high school and college I dated a few different people who had recently exited or were in the process of exiting prior romantic relationships. For some reason, I kept accompanying these dates to romantic films in which the female lead must decide between two partners and ends up sticking with her old love interest. I swear such poor movie choices sent at least a couple of my dates back into the arms of their old boyfriends.
But my interest in slightly complicated love stories remains, and of all of them that I’ve enjoyed, I keep returning to one: (500) Days of Summer, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (who also adapted The Fault in Our Stars for the big screen), and directed by Marc Webb. I love the nonlinear storyline and the fantastic flourishes. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s morning-after musical number is one of the greatest scenes in film history, I swear, and not just because of the Hall and Oates song. The movie has inspired my crushes on both Mr. Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, but what’s most engaging is the full-circle storytelling. It’s a love story and break-up story all at once, and that feels so much more real than one or the other, which is what movies normally offer.
Thankfully, my wife and I had been married several years before this movie came along. If we hadn’t been, I fear this might have been yet another “love” story that prompted my partner to consider looking elsewhere. Thanks to a little better timing this time around, this is the movie I’ve seen more than almost any other, often snuggled up next to my own love interest.
— Eric Rasmussen, Fiction Editor
Looking through my bookshelves (because I have a terrible memory and can’t just remember what I’ve read), I’m starting to wonder if I have something against love. Where is all the romance? Does Nigel Slater’s Toast count? Food love seems to be my genre.
Although, there is that part in Love in the Time of Cholera that still haunts me years later. It’s that moment after one of them goes away for a long time while the other one is left pining, but then they take their sad self to church or something (see, bad memory), and they’re sitting there and suddenly catch a glimpse of the person walking by (I think), and this electric shock or frozen wave radiates through their body, and I felt it too. That was pretty good.
Back to food relationships, have you read Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes? Don’t let the movie adaptation fool you; the memoir is a beautiful and often philosophical love triangle between her, food, and place.
— Cynthia Brandon-Slocum, Managing Editor
For some years now, I’ve found myself more intensely drawn to the complicated viscera of familial love stories—the unrequited stuff between children and parents, among siblings, and that joyful or tragic tickling of coincidence that perfumes our sense of ancestry. I love the tender emotional suspense of these narratives, ones I read with the anticipation some hold for thrillers, that help me discover ways to investigate the emotional crimes a life knows, the resolutions wanted or possible for repairing a heart broken by “home.”
One of my favorite books and, for me, most intriguing fictional love stories (though I don’t think it’s ever been billed as one) is Ali Smith’s How to be both. This two-pronged text—divided between the perspective of George who has lost her mother and the spirit of the artist Francesco del Cossa who appears to be speaking to us through memory, through canvas—travels through the ambiguities of time, sexuality, art, grief, and the disturbing and comforting ghosts of origin in order to consider lineages of love, of being.
What I find so magical in this book is how Smith gives us a “both,” for the novel insists, in form and in content, that we indulge a twain (or perhaps more) and that we league together times, fathom beyond the present’s possibility to indulge continuum. This message, for me, is something very powerful to commit to “love story,” and I so enjoy how Smith’s How to be both fully lights up the curious and unconventional spaces of love, life, of art, too, and reveals how they transpose through the physical and metaphysical worlds we both choose and inherit.
— Carrie Chappell, Poetry Editor