In reading, everyone has something they avoid: “I can’t stand books that swear.” “I hate books with wimpy heroines.” “I cannot stand rhyming picture books.” Whatever. Everyone’s got something. My thing? Unhappy couples. Can’t stand it. I’ve always felt that way, and that feeling has only intensified over the years. Therefore, I avoid books specifically about unhappy or dysfunctional couples (looking at you, Revolutionary Road). I just can’t take it. And I almost always finish reading what I start, but if there’s too much tension between the two love interests, if I can’t guarantee a happy ending for the two of them, I walk away. That whole Hunger Games trilogy had me in knots. Thank goodness for all the children-killing-children and political unrest to break the tension for me. Feel free to nominate your picks for unhappiest couple in the comments below.
1. Mr. & Mrs. Bennett, Pride and Prejudice. A husband who thinks his wife is an idiot? A wife who needles her husband with inanities? No thank-you.
2. Fats Wall and Krystal Wheedon in The Casual Vacancy. He’s using her to rebel against the bourgeois status quo. She’s using him to get pregnant so she can live by herself and get custody of her younger brother. That’s bad enough, but then people die. People. Die.
3. Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan and Tom Buchanan and Myrtle in The Great Gatsby. UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGH. They’re all stuck together here because they’re all one big mess. No one is saying what they mean (except Tom, the supremacist dirtbag), and they’re all too rich, and they all have the wrong feelings or the right feelings directed in the way, and it just makes me want to melt my face. AND THEN PEOPLE DIE.
4. Hamlet and Ophelia in Hamlet. Hamlet’s need for revenge causes a lot of damage. Sweet Ophelia’s loss of sanity and then life foreshadows Hamlet’s own. So, so sad.
5. Lady and Mr. Macbeth in Macbeth. The original Housewife of Orange County, nothing is ever good enough for Lady Macbeth. She wants hubby to be king. And, frankly, so does hubby. Their squabbles lead to an attempted coup and war. These two are seriously so dysfunctional, even when they appear to be appeasing each other. (And then people die.)
6. Anna Karenina and Alexis Alexandrovich Karenin in Anna Karenina. I hate this book so much. SO MUCH. But seriously, Karenin? Bad enough your wife would rather risk an affair than put up with your cruelty, but when your wife would rather throw herself under a train than be with you, there’s a problem. It might be you.
7. Lancelot and Guinevere and Arthur in… all the Arthur tales. What is it with people and having affairs? I guess when women are treated as property agreements rather than agents, this sort of thing is bound to happen. But still– Arthur’s a great guy. What’s your deal Gwen? And what’s up with you, Lance, doing that to your bff? And Arthur– making war on your wife? So not cool. You people need either therapy or Maury Povich.
8. Orpheus and Eurydice (from Greek myth). This one is really more sweet and sad than dysfunctional and sad, but still. Why did you look back, Orpheus? Tricky, tricky Hades.
9. Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind. Scarlett, Ashley is a dope and your daughter is a jewel. Honestly, woman.
10. Cersei and… everyone she sleeps with. Game of Thrones series. SHE’S GOING TO RUIN YOUR LIFE AND THEN KILL YOU! RUN AWAY NOW! Ah, too late.
**I feel like Hemingway should get an honorary mention, or maybe all of the Modernists combined, because I cannot think of one single happy relationship in the whole literary bunch. Thoughts?