Valentine’s Day is coming up, and nothing says love quite like a totalitarian nightmare society or post-apocalyptic community of survivalists! The convergence of a romantic storyline and a dystopian world is actually not uncommon. Young adult novels often explore this territory, but it is not exclusive to that age group. Here’s a Valentine’s Day reading list where love is tested by bleak dystopias.
“1984” by George Orwell is a classic. It has contributed terms like Orwellian, thoughtcrime and Big Brother to our lexicon, but it is not commonly thought of as a story about romance. However, it is a romantic connection that brings the main character, Winston, into conflict with Big Brother. The government sees that kind of relationship between two people as a threat, and the feelings that develop between Winston and Julia in turn make the government a threat to them. I won’t spoil how it ends, but it isn’t with someone receiving flowers or with Winston holding up a boombox outside Julia’s window, although that would be very ‘80s.
“Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary Shteyngart is a satirical take on a near-future America in decline and the unlikely love affair that develops between Lenny, a man working for a company that sells immortality, and Eunice, a recent college graduate many years his junior. My colleague, The Gentleman, recommended this book a few years ago and did such an excellent job that I don’t want to waste your time with my drivel. Here’s his post.
“Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion is a riff on Romeo and Juliet set in a world overrun by zombies. Instead of the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets keeping the young lovers apart, it’s living, breathing humans versus the undead, brain-hungry zombies. R is a zombie with a philosophical bent and appreciation for Frank Sinatra tunes. After eating the brains of Julie’s boyfriend he finds himself in love with her. Can these two crazy kids make it work? Bloody, rom-com hijinks ensue!
“Beyond Shame” by Kit Rocha is another story of lovers from different sides. In this case it is different sides of a walled-off city called Eden. Noelle desperately wants out of her strict, repressive life in Eden. Outside the city walls are ruins of a destroyed society populated by criminal elements like Jasper McCray, bootlegger and cage fighter. These two inevitably cross paths and sparks fly.
“The Gender Game” by Bella Forrest takes a story of forbidden love and places it in a world strictly divided by gender. To the east of a toxic river lies Matrus, a land ruled by women. To the West, Patrus, a land ruled by men. Violet is forced to flee Matrus for Patrus where she must conform to oppressive rules and deny a love that is not allowed.
I suppose it is natural to explore stories of romantic relationships against the backdrop of dire circumstances. In one way or another we are all looking for someone to cling to in an uncertain world. Placing a love story in a nightmarish future just ramps up the drama! Happy Valentine’s Day.
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