It’s pretty easy to name famous works of literature that center around a love story. Troilus and Criseyde, Romeo and Juliet, not to mention the complete works of Jane Austen. The Bible has Adam and Eve, The Iliad and the Odyssey even have a love triangle, consisting of Menelaus, Helen and Paris. Readers have long been intrigued by love stories; one only needs to look at the extensive “romance” section of their local bookstore to see how successful such novels are.
It’s harder to come up with a list of books NOT centered around a love story. Even books that at first glance seem like they’re not going to have a love story in them often do, even if the love story is not a conventional one.
When someone begins to read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, she may think that she’s going to read a story about a wholesome Midwestern boy who moves to an elite suburb of New York City after the war and discovers that rich people are hideous. And while that could be considered a reasonable summary of the events of The Great Gatsby, it ignores that the story involves n ill-fated romance whose unfortunate circumstances and tragic results almost rival those of Romeo and Juliet.
Nick’s own minor affair with Jordan is almost completely inconsequential compared to Jay Gatsby’s long-standing infatuation with Daisy Buchanan. The reader learns that Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy has motivated just about everything he has done, since the day he met her, a revelation that seems equal parts romantic and pathetic. Daisy fails to appreciate (or chooses to ignore) the efforts Gatsby has gone to in order to become “worthy” of her and, as anyone who’s read The Great Gastby knows, the results are disastrous for all involved.
One may argue that there’s no discernible love story in The Catcher in the Rye. J.D. Salinger’s protagonist, young Holden Caulfield, can’t even bring himself to utilize the services of a prostitute, let alone maintain a real relationship with a woman. But the love story at the heart of Catcher in the Rye is not between a man and a woman, it’s been Holden and the memory of his deceased brother Allie.
His grief over Allie’s death, and his connection to his memory, is what motivates him to do or not do all of the things he does in the novel. His obsession with the memory of his departed brother is quite akin to Gatsby’s determination to win back his lost Daisy, only that Holden’s quest is sadly even more futile than Gatsby’s.
Great novels don’t need romance to be great, but they may need passion: whether it’s for a person, a dog, an ideal or a memory, where there is love, there is a quest, and those are always worth writing about.