"Happy families are all alike," but I want to read about them
August 11, 2011 12:37 PM   Subscribe

"Happy families are all alike," which presumably makes things difficult for novelists, who need conflict to drive plot. But since I don't have a lot of great relationship models in my life, I'd like to read some novels about people with good marital or romantic relationships. Suggestions?

NB: I'm not neccesarily looking for books about romances per se, more interested in the day-to-day than in people being swept off their feet, and not looking for romance novels. Other "genre fiction" would be O.K., but I'm more interested in "literary fiction." Short stories or books of poems would also be acceptable.

Some novels that I've liked (not neccesarily on this topic) include Chaim Potok's The Book of Lights, Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Balzac's Lost Illusions.

I'm male, straight, in my late twenties, and in a relationship, but not married. I'll let you decide if those things should influence your recommendations.
posted by ThisIsNotMe to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
There was a great thread on this awhile back here; I'd be willing to bet that many of those would fit the bill.
posted by jquinby at 12:40 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

There was also this thread.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:52 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having missed both previous threads, let me say: Gail Godwin, The Good Husband. It is, essentially, a portrait of marriage and a wonderful novel. It's one of my top ten favourite novels, in fact.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:04 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this is in the ballpark for you since these novels typically don't *focus* on the marital relationships, but you might find this more easily in children's literature. The later books in the Anne of Green Gables series come immediately to mind.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:06 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett for Nick and Nora.
The Married Man by Edmund White and Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardamboth describe long and complex but deeply happy relationships.
Of his book Light Years James Salter says, "If you can believe this book, and it is true, there is a dense world built on matrimony, a life enclosed, as it says, in ancient walls. It is about the sweetness of those unending days."
And Paris, Trance by Geoff Dyer is absolutely one of the most realistic and enjoyable portrayals of happiness that I've ever read.

Amusingly enough Geoff Dyer described Nedra and Viri from Light Years as the "most irritatingly named characters in literature."
posted by villanelles at dawn at 1:12 PM on August 11, 2011

Check out the title story of Julian Barnes's new collection Pulse. The narrator's own marriage isn't great, but his parents have one of the strongest relationships I've ever read about.
posted by tangerine at 1:30 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

How about the Little House books? They have their issues when it comes to historical accuracy and race, but they are charming and a great portrait of family life.
posted by bq at 1:34 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Totally came in to say the later books in the Anne of Green Gables series. Also other LM Montgomery novels.

I'm also fond of the Weasleys in Harry Potter.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:45 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, Cheaper By The Dozen. Don't let the kid movie remakes put you off - this is a good book about daily life in a larger than average family.
posted by jquinby at 2:02 PM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, from a few years ago, describes a middle-aged man, who enjoys his relationships with his wife and two grown children and is successful in his work and happy in his life.
posted by Paquda at 2:05 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Strongly seconding the suggestion of Crossing to Safety.
posted by inkisbetter at 2:06 PM on August 11, 2011

The Dorothy Sayers mysteries that feature Harriet Vane & Lord Peter Wimsey, I think have a couple who are smart and who respect each other as people. You might want to skim the mystery bits, as they're solidly 1930's 'whodunnits' that feature convoluted and highly improbable crimes. But the character interaction is fantastic.
posted by Caravantea at 2:27 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding Dashiell Hammett.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:44 PM on August 11, 2011

My Life in France by Julia Child.
posted by matildaben at 2:46 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sound of Music
posted by KokuRyu at 3:30 PM on August 11, 2011

Life With Father and 'I Remember Mama'.
posted by bq at 3:50 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I believe that most of Madeleine L'Engle's books involve good relationships. Many of the books focus more on the children of parents in a loving, committed relationship, but The Small Rain and A Severed Wasp have the adult relationships much more in the forefront. Of course, the people in the two aforementioned books have many more problems concerning relationships (and life), but there is love there.
posted by wiskunde at 3:56 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

"The Rolling Stones" by Robert Heinlein is about a very happy family: father, mother, paternal grandmother, teenage twin sons, and a kid brother. (They live on the Moon, but that's a detail.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:22 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold. The first book/half is adventure & forming a relationship. The second is about marriage & pregnancy. (Scifi.)
The Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold. If you like fantasy, these are pretty interesting and I do like how the relationship is solid while everything else is confusing or difficult.

Seconding My Life in France...

Also children's books, in particular the end of several series, Betsy-Tacy, Little House, and Anne of Green Gables. I've always liked Betsy's Wedding by Maud Lovelace because the wedding is at the start of the book, and the rest is about the first year of marriage together. Anywhere in Little House has Ma & Pa Ingalls happy marriage, The First Four Years has Laura & Almanzo's happy in marriage while life is hard. (It's a little bleak.) Anne's House of Dreams is nice too, though it helps to have read a few of the previous books to see how the characters got there.

Memoirs and biographies can be nice places for this too. I'd recommend Outwitting the Gestapo by Lucie Aubrac, What do you care what people think by Richard Feynman, England to Me by Emily Hahn
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:20 PM on August 11, 2011

Don Delillo's White Noise.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 5:53 PM on August 11, 2011

This thread also.
posted by marsha56 at 6:44 PM on August 11, 2011

Betty Smith's Joy in the Morning.
posted by brujita at 9:04 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think Elizabeth Berg writes beautiful books about 'regular life'. Not always perfect relationships but realistic. And with my almost namesake bq, I just read "Half-broke horses" by Jeanette Walls and it's like Little House for grown ups, a very interesting book.
posted by bquarters at 9:55 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Thirding "Crossing to Safety." Stegner presents two happy marriages and a perfect, yet somehow realistic, friendship between the two couples. I also think it might be one of the best novels of the twentieth century.
posted by eisenkr at 10:22 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Also, TVTropes (I know, I know) seems to have a good listing of Happily Married couples in literature.
posted by wiskunde at 12:32 PM on August 13, 2011

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