We love lovers’ stories that pit them against all sorts of obstacles, and these new books do just that — whether it’s a young couple struggling with an unthinkable separation, middle-aged lovers whose affair is heightened by religious guilt, or a guy who loves women but just can’t stick with a relationship, except with his cat.
Colette Bancroft, Times book editor
An American Marriage
By Tayari Jones
Algonquin Books, 320 pages, $26.95
An American Marriage is the fourth novel by Tayari Jones (Silver Sparrow) and the latest Oprah’s Book Club pick. Its main characters are Roy and Celestial, an upwardly mobile young black couple living in Atlanta. Newlyweds, they’re still figuring out their roles in the marriage when, during a visit to family in rural Louisiana, Roy is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit.
When he’s convicted and sentenced to prison, the novel turns to the epistolary mode. Jones tells the couple’s story through their letters to each other as Roy clings to his idealized dreams for their lives together, and Celestial tries to reconcile her love for him with her ongoing life in the outside world — including a supportive friend who may be something more.
By Jamie Quatro
Grove Press, 208 pages, $24
Fire Sermon is the first novel by Jamie Quatro, after her acclaimed short story collection, I Want to Show You More. The novel’s main character is Maggie, a comfortably married mother of two. She’s a writer, an academic and a Christian, and her faith is to her not just an hour a week in church but an ongoing, intense emotional and intellectual pursuit.
Maggie’s initially platonic exchange with a poet, James, about spiritual matters gains an erotic charge when they meet in person, and becomes an obsessive affair. Both of them see their infidelity as a terrible sin — which of course makes it all the more irresistible. Its narrative laced with flashbacks, poetry and letters, Fire Sermon follows Maggie as she negotiates her relationships with her husband, her lover and her God.
I Wrote This Book Because I Love You
By Tim Kreider
Simon & Schuster, 206 pages, $26
I Wrote This Book Because I Love You is an essay collection by author (We Learn Nothing) and cartoonist (The Pain: When Will It End?) Tim Kreider.
The theme running through this book’s dozen essays is Kreider’s relationships with women, platonic and romantic, and he recounts them with wonderfully self-deprecating wit and considerable insight.
Kreider, middle-aged and never married, seems not to have had any ordinary relationships. In "Death-Defying Acts," his friend Annie proposes they get married — not out of any well of emotion, but because she has joined the circus and if they’re married he can ride in the train with her. "Kind of Love" is the story of his affair with a cartoonist groupie who happens to be a prostitute. "Orientation" moves from his recollection of dating a younger woman to a thoughtful, complex (and rueful) consideration of boundaries and of how differently two people can perceive the same relationship.
Among the funniest and most touching of these essays is "A Man and His Cat." The cat in question has many names, but let’s call her the Quetzal. She and Kreider are together for 19 years, the cat outlasting (and sometimes outright driving away) any number of women. When she showed up at his vacation cabin as a kitten, he writes, he decided, "I was not going to be one of those indulgent, doting Cat Guys who lets a pet control his life." But love can catch you by surprise.