“There are no happy endings, kid. Just these moments,” one character tells another in Robert Coover’s story “Matinée,” an irreverent look at love, time, and cinema. Those moments are what we experience in this handful of love stories, none of which, it seems, have truly happy endings. There’s the unforgettable exchange in Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” (so powerfully re-created onscreen, in Ang Lee’s 2005 film adaptation of the story), in which a ranch hand tells the man he’s loved for years, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” Or that moment of solace in the face of rejection, at the end of “Someone,” by Alice McDermott. There’s the declaration of forbidden love, quickly defused by laughter, in Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s “Aphrodisiac,” or the moment in Alice Munro’s “Passion” when the young protagonist, on an ill-fated drive with her fiancé’s brother, has a sudden revelation about love and desire: “She had thought that it was touch. Mouths, tongues, skin, bodies, banging bone on bone. Inflammation. Passion. But that wasn’t what she’d been working toward at all. She had seen deeper, deeper into him than she could ever have managed if they’d gone that way.” In “Love Is Blind and Deaf,” Jonathan Safran Foer goes back to the original love story, and the original sin. Perhaps we can take a cue from him this Valentine’s Day and look past the constantly changing narrative of politics to the stories that last.
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