7 Authors Who Know Life Ain’t No Fairy Tale

There’s no shortage of books about the kind of passionate romances that cause women to go mad, men to embark on quests, and couples to cross heaven and earth to make out in the rain and live happily ever after. Love stories are an eternal favorite because of all the strong, satisfying, and generally warm and fuzzy feelings one gets from reading them. But the feelings one gets from real-life intense relationships are actually quite different. These 7 books are not only great, satisfying reads, but they show that making out in the rain is not a prerequisite for a great, satisfying love story.

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen

Everyone knows that PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is plucky Elizabeth Bennet and staid Mr. Darcy’s love story. But it’s also the story of Lizzy’s good friend Charlotte Lucas, who has the good sense and courage to choose someone who, granted, is socially off-putting, but has the skills and means to provide for her, a young woman with no means of her own. For all the romance Austen’s books contain, she understood that solid relationships have less to do with passion than pragmatism.

Middlemarch
by George Eliot

MIDDLEMARCH examines the difficulties faced by Dorothea Brooke, an intelligent young woman looking for a true partner among men who lack intellectual interests and disrespect any woman who does. She marries a scholar, thinking they will share a life of the mind, but no such luck. Ultimately, she accepts a truth about searching for a partner that’s still valuable today. Self-reliance and a refusal to compromise on the qualities that are the most important are what protect you from falling into a bad relationship.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare

No one has ever topped the ability of this Shakespeare comedy to demonstrate how the power of love and lust can turn intelligent, powerful people into laughable idiots. It’s easy to laugh when magic spells cause a proud, beautiful fairy to fall in love with an idiot peasant with the head of a donkey, but in reality it takes no magic to fall for the wrong person—just the power of our real and imperfect human chemistry.

My Ántonia
by Willa Cather

This novel has a foundation in the deep lifelong friendship between a man and a woman, narrator Jim Burden and the titular character Antonia, which began during their childhood growing up on neighboring pioneer Nebraska homesteads. Their friendship, which survives their respective romances and marriages, proves that no matter how far their lives go in different directions, non-romantic love can enrich people and bring out their strengths as much as a romantic partnership can.

In My Father’s Court
by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Novelist Isaac Bashevis Singer’s memoir contains a wonderful description of the chronic conflict between his mother—a sensible rationalist—and his father—a somewhat superstitious and romantic rabbi. What’s fascinating is the way their conflict, while never resolved, makes their partnership more lively, demonstrating that successful partnerships don’t always have to be peaceful ones.

Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout

The stories in OLIVE KITTERIDGE provide an unsentimental look at the strengths and weaknesses of a 25-year-long marriage between a tough-as-nails woman and her softy of a husband. While the protagonist’s inability to feel love for her husband is hard for both parties, their efforts to be decent to one another while raising a son are impressive and admirable. The strain of their marital chemistry and opposing natures frequently makes them both feel weak, ugly, and compromised, but the sweep of time uncovers a picture of loving respect and meaningful sacrifice.

Fifth Business
by Robertson Davies

This novel’s title is also the term for the archetypal character in opera whose role is to share exposition and advance the plot; he has no romantic counterpart and his part is small, but without him, the story does not advance and the romantic leads never get together. Over the course of this sweeping novel, the protagonist recalls his life story, spent more as an observer than a hero or a villain, but which was still a vibrant, rewarding, and worthwhile experience. Sometimes the best lesson a book can teach about relationships is that a life without a great romance can be worth living.