If you’re anything like us, you like a little quirk with your romance. Or, um, make that a lot of quirk. This week saw the release of Joe Meno’s newest novel, Office Girl, an off-kilter love story between two meandering artist-types trying to make it in Chicago on little more than fumes, awkward sex, and half-baked schemes — until they find each other, of course. After reading the short novel, we had a hankering for some more weird tales of love, so we put together this list of some of our favorite off-kilter romances in literature, from the dark and strange to the relentlessly whimsical. Click through to check out our picks, and as always, be sure to let us know your own favorite book in this vein in the comments.
Office Girl , Joe Meno
A lithe, winking take on the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl cliché, Meno’s newest novel is like Perks of Being a Wallflower for the 20-something set — and just like that iconic novel of creatives-in-crisis, this one is quirky, clever, and full of bitten tongues and youthful dreaming. Add bicycles, fingerless gloves, and one of the most twee art projects we could have ever imagined, and you’ve got a charming and unpretentious hipster love story destined to be the next cult classic.
Citrus County , John Brandon
We’ve been gushing over Brandon’s newest release, but that doesn’t mean we’ve gotten over our love affair with his last — as the book’s back matter sighs, “teenage romance should be difficult, but not this difficult. Boys like Toby should cause trouble but not this much.” Indeed, this is one of the weirdest love stories we’ve ever had the pleasure to come across, wherein the aforementioned Toby goes to dangerously great lengths to ensure that the object of his affections be open to them, leading everyone he knows down a swampy, twisted path into the darkness.
“Something That Needs Nothing,” from No One Belongs Here More Than You , Miranda July
The standout story from July’s 2008 collection is about two girls who run away together, the narrator and her girlfriend, Pip, who “saw herself as a charming street urchin, a pet for wealthy mothers” and leaves her for one, only to return, only to leave, while our narrator takes off her clothes in a filthy strip-mall peep show booth. Strange, funny and remarkably painful, this is July at her absolute best.
Super Sad True Love Story , Gary Shteyngart
All in all, Gary Shteyngart is a pretty off-kilter dude. Just watch the book trailer for this novel if you don’t believe us. The book itself is just as bizarrely sweet, the awkward love story of middle-aged schlump Lenny Abramov and perky first generation Korean-American Eunice Park in a (rapidly approaching) futuristic America. Superfunny, superodd, and yes, supersad, this is a love story for the superages.
The Princess Bride, William Goldman
Anyone who has seen the film version — which is most people — already knows this book for the tongue-in-cheek, hilarious, dastardly love story that it is. After all, any story with ROUSs has got to be pretty high up on anyone’s list of off-kilter anythings, right? Right.
Skippy Dies , Paul Murray
Well, no spoilers here. Skippy does in fact die at the beginning of Murray’s delicious novel, but not before writing a final plea to Lori, his beloved, in jelly donut on the floor. A prep school tragicomedy, the book blends serious stuff — drugs, sex, death — with the inanities and insanities of the lives of teenage boys, to considerable effect. Like everyone in this book, you won’t know what hit you.
The relationship that blossoms, burns and finally falls apart in this book is perhaps not an unusual one, at least for a pair of artists — mixtapes, borrowed sweaters and polaroids abound — but its weirdness comes in the telling. The novel (as it were) is set up as an auction catalog, presenting artifacts from the failed relationship with little commentary, allowing the reader to piece everything together from as far outside as you can imagine. Remarkably well done, and strangely heartbreaking to boot, it just might have you reevaluating all your possessions with a collector’s eye.
“Jon,” from In Persuasion Nation , George Saunders
Almost all of Saunders’ love stories falls into this category, of course (and we recommend each and every one of them), but “Jon” has a special place in our hearts. Set in a testing facility where everything the live-in child testers see, hear and touch is advertising, it’s both a teenage love story and (as these things so often are) a coming-of-age tale that pushes at the edges of reality and chills us to the bone. Read the whole thing here.
High Fidelity , Nick Hornby
A love story told in in top ten lists? Now that is our kind of love story.
Youth in Revolt , C. D. Payne
How far would you go to get the girl of your dreams? Pretty far, if you’re Nick Twisp, who adopts not one but two alternate personalities in order to woo his beloved Sheeni (and run from the cops after all the crap he did trying to impress her) in this epistolary picaresque. And hey, when Michael Cera plays your protagonist in the movie version of your film, that’s a pretty good indicator that you’ve written an off-kilter love story. Just saying.