Demi Moore knew what she was doing when she officially split from Ashton Kutcher last week; no way is Mrs. Kutcher going to pass the potatoes to her husband and pretend everything is hunky dory come Thanksgiving. While the lady can act, why would she want to? The holidays can be hard, sometimes even more so because your relationship is on the rocks or even kaput. While statistics published by eDivorcePapers.com assert that most divorce filings happen in January, splits are often under way before the turkey hits the dinner table.
Moping your way through the mall instead of buying a gift for mom? Incessantly checking his Facebook status updates in lieu of writing out holiday cards? Filled with rage instead of good cheer and eggnog? No matter how you’re left feeling after a breakup, give yourself a gift and rebound during the holidays…with a juicy book to match your mood and maybe even ring your jingle bell. Take refuge in the consolation of literature and you might find that the right book comforts if not heals a broken heart. Here are a few books to keep you warm even in the colder months, as you work your way through the many stages of heartbreak.
Longing: "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel (Anchor). While "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" by Tracy Chevalier (Plume) captures longing and restraint pretty darn well, there’s no better book about unrequited love than "Like Water for Chocolate." This novel features a lovely bit of magical realism as Tita pines over Pedro in turn-of-the-century Mexico, all the while infusing her sumptuous cooking—recipes included—with her many pent-up emotions. This book may not melt in your mouth but it will melt your heart.
Betrayal: "Heartburn" by Nora Ephron (Vintage): There are loads of tales swirling around about two-timing partners, but Ephron captures the complexities of infidelity with acerbic, anguishing perfection. Rachel’s a food writer who’s seven months pregnant when she finds out that her journalist husband is cheating on her with a svelte socialite. Based on Ephron’s own marriage to Carl Bernstein, you’ll eat up this tart tale of a marriage on the skids.
Analysis: "High Fidelity" by Nick Hornby (Riverhead Trade). Can’t stop the internal dialogue? Join the club, or at least Rob Fleming, a thirty-something record-shop owner who lives in his head. He can’t seem to stop obsessing about his ex-girlfriends or his various “top five” lists. Don’t read this unless you’re prepared to discover how men really think about relationships and women. It’s funny but more than that, it’s spot-on. (For the female take on overthinking, check out Dorothy Parker’s short story, “A Telephone Call.”)
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Downright angry: "War of the Roses" by Warren Adler (Stonehouse Press). You think you’re mad as hell at your ex? Chances are you’ve got nothing on Oliver and Barbara Rose, a couple who, during the course of a nasty divorce, concoct new and cruel ways to hate the one you’re with. Don’t key her car or shred his favorite sweater; instead, live vicariously through Adler’s novel and save yourself from possible criminal proceedings.
Regret: "Atonement" by Ian McEwen (Anchor). McEwen’s much-lauded novel is a beautiful moving tale of the persistent upstairs/downstairs love of Cecelia and Robbie set against the harrowing backdrop of World War II. They might not have had to have been so tenacious about their passion if Cecelia’s younger sister Briony hadn’t falsely singled out Robbie as the one who raped her cousin after a dinner party at the family’s estate. How Briony deals with her regret and attempts to atone for her mistake will put your own relationship missteps into perspective.
Randy: "The Year of Yes" by Maria Dahvana Headley (Hyperion). The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else…or at least date everyone and anyone in sight. That’s the premise of Headley’s frank and funny memoir. She dates absolutely everyone who asks, including a homeless man, a mime, and the guy upstairs. If you’re ready to get back in the saddle, "The Year of Yes" is just the zesty motivation to giddyup.
Denial: "Emma" by Jane Austen (Harper Perennial Modern Classics). Poor Emma Woodhouse. Austen’s clueless heroine is at the heart of several misguided attempts to match make every single lady and gent in Highbury, all the while in complete denial about her feelings for a certain gentleman. Read on as Emma moves her companions around like pawns on a chessboard to hilarious and pretty much calamitous results. When she finally acknowledges her own feelings, it will be hard to deny your own swooning over the satisfying and altogether right conclusion. (If you are looking to feel a bit more hopeful about your prospects, pick up Austen’s "Persuasion" instead.)
Acceptance: "The Giant’s House" by Elizabeth McCracken (Dial Press Trade Paperback). Learn to love yourself with all of your flaws and quirks as you read this unlikely love story of an 11-year-old boy afflicted with gigantism (he continues to grow…and grow) and a lonely librarian. With their "Harold and Maude"-like situation, James and Peggy’s weird-but-it-works relationship will work its magic on you and soften your heart toward yourself, others, and your current condition in life.
Obsession: There’s no shortage of tales of destructive obsessive love, from the olfactory ("Perfume" by Patrick Suskind, Vintage) to the pyromaniacal ("Endless Love" by Scott Spencer, Ecco) to that of the Stockholm syndrome variety ("Forgetting Zoe" by Ray Robinson, Windmill). But it might be worth revisiting "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage) and read about Humbert Humbert’s ongoing obsession with 12-year-old Delores, who Humbert nicknames Lolita. He becomes wildly possessive of her as they skip around the country as stepfather and stepdaughter. Nabokov’s novel is pervy, yes, but it’s also a modern masterpiece that just might make you forget about cyberstalking your ex for a while.
It Could Be Worse: "The House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton (Signet Classics). You wish you were dead? Well, read this turn-of-the-century tale of Lily Bart, who is to the manner born but doesn’t have a chamber pot to, well, you get the idea. You’ll soon feel as if your lot is not quite so desperate as you watch Lily continue to make unfortunate choices, which, in her rigid world, have ruinous consequences. Yes, it could be worse. You could be living in an Edith Wharton novel. Go ahead, nurse your broken heart but realize that you can do it without the constraint of a corset or an unforgiving upper class. And that’s something.
Jennifer Worick is the author of more than 25 books and a publishing consultant; she can be found at The Business of Books.
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