Monotony, mistresses, murder: Books about marriages gone awry to read as your “Gone Girl” hair-of-the-dog

Can’t sleep because you’re still having nightmares about Gone Girl? Gillian Flynn is not the only writer whose tales of marital discord can stab you between the ribs. And what better time than so close to Valentine’s Day to remind yourself that love can be worse than a slasher film? So use your sleeplessness to devour one of these literary beauties, if you’re so bold.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

“Nothing says hell has to be fire.”

I read this one on my honeymoon, because I’m an ironic precious snowflake with a flair for the morbid. (“That’s not what honeymoons are for, Lizzie!” someone wrote on my Facebook status update requesting book recommendations). There’s a photo of me laying on a balcony hammock in overcast Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, peering sinisterly over the book.

It’s about a mail-order bride who intends to gradually poison her new husband in rural Wisconsin in the early 1900s and inherit his money. But there’s much more to it than that.

Can a marriage born of a twisty revenge plot and flavored with arsenic turn into a contented partnership? Can love win out in such darkness? “Such things happened,” Robert Goolrick’s narrator might say, his recurring refrain for the gruesome insanity that was apparently rampant in that time and setting. It’s a depraved novel of matters of the heart when the hearts are stained black.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word.”

My ninth-grade English teacher Mrs. Corey was desperate for me to read this. Thirteen years later, after letting it collect dust on my to-read shelf, I committed to Daphne du Maurier’s novel. If you’ve ever looked up your man’s ex on Facebook to discover she’s way prettier than you, performs life-saving surgeries for children pro bono and makes a mean chocolate croissant, do not walk, do not collect $200, run to your nearest purveyor of books or e-reading device.

The unnamed narrator of Rebecca meets the dashing Maxim de Winter, wealthy, mysterious and recently a widower, abroad while they’re staying at the same hotel, he alone, she as the paid companion of an intolerable old woman. She falls unabashedly in love with him. When her employer says they’re departing for another country, Maxim will have none of it. “I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.”

And so he sweeps her away to Manderley, his sprawling estate nestled between woods and beaches, flanked by roses and azaleas and permeated with the presence of the inescapable first wife, Rebecca. Beautiful, beloved, drowned Rebecca, whose memory morphs from an awkward topic for the narrator to a terrifying, consuming obsession. The shy, uncertain second Mrs. de Winter never feels quite bright enough to cast out Rebecca’s shadow, and questions the validity of her marriage. The lush narration descends into the pits of jealousy and despair. But there’s something even more sinister going on in Manderley than the evil housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who in a scene that haunts my dreams drags the second Mrs. through Rebecca’s bedroom, making her stroke Rebecca’s unwashed nightgown and wondering aloud whether Rebecca’s ghost watches her and Maxim.

You’ve got to get about two-thirds into the novel for the really bonkers revelations, but from there it's like a freight train, and trust me, it’s worth it.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

“There is still such crookedness in my heart. I had thought loving two people so much would straighten it.”

Depending on your perspective, this is either the lightest or darkest of the bunch because it’s the most realistic. No shocking twists, no murder plots, no hauntings. And yet this tiny little book — Bustle told me I could read it in one sitting, and I did, before lunch — might make you look at your shiny engagement ring and say, “Yeah, maybe not.”

Instead of a conventional storytelling format, this is more a collection of highly quotable observations — sardonic, heart-wrenching, lovely, bizarre, hilarious — that weave in the story of an idyllic marriage that goes, as they are wont to do, tragically wrong. They’re a cool, young Brooklyn couple with an adorable little girl. She’s a writer. He’s a musician. They get bedbugs. Other stuff happens. Tragedies and indiscretions, mundane things, delightful things.

The wit and candor of the narrator branded me so deeply that I think my lungs are burned. If you want a naked and brilliant analysis of marriage that’s deeply relatable regardless of your marital or parental state, take 2.5 hours of your day to devour this gem. You'll highlight every other sentence.

Video: Playing Favorites

I'm pretty excited to finally have a new video to share! This one is about a few current favorites, from dolphin/goat-impersonating comediennes to poetry roulette to Etsy goodness. Hope you enjoy it!

Stuff I mentioned:

Marble MacBook decal

“Toasters” Battlestar Galactica parody shirt 

Dear Sugar columns

Jane the Virgin on The CW

Iliza Shlesinger "1st Hour of Being Drunk" clip from War Paint and "Grabbing Hand" clip about becoming a creepy witch pharmacist

Poetry Foundation website and app


The best show you never watched: Funeral rites for "Selfie"

Selfie was doomed from the pilot to end with one season.

The modern-day My Fair Lady/Pygmalion about a shallow Instagram addict who asks her colleague to mentor her into developing a more respectable image was clever and big-hearted — if you were actually paying attention while watching. But in a world where Kim Kardashian tweeting a cellphone snap of her already famous tumbao breaks the Internet, it makes sense that people took the over-the-top narcissism of Karen Gillan's Eliza Dooley at face value, neglecting to see the charm and farce in the satire. Add in a cringe-worthy, search engine de-optimized title, and you have a ratings stinker that even a former Doctor Who companion couldn't save.

Selfie is universal. It's for every Marilyn who felt brushed aside for a Jackie, for every wounded high school outcast who even in adulthood feels like a poser, for every girl foolish enough to fall for her best friend. It's for everyone who has felt overexposed, undervalued, lonely or insufficient.

Here are three reasons this show was flying ever higher even with a target on its back:

1. Non-Whovians, behold Karen Gillan's glory

Best known as the indelible Amy Pond, the sickeningly talented Karen Gillan deserves to blow up stateside. She was a creature worthy of awe on Doctor Who, demanding absolute emotional engagement from the audience whether she was flirting, crying, pointing a gun in protective Mama Bear mode or saving a space whale. Gillan brought the same sexiness and vulnerability to the role of Eliza. A former high-school loser voted "Most Butt" in her yearbook, Eliza blossomed into a Soul Cycling party girl with a giant social media following but few real-life social skills of which to speak.

Gillan makes a vapid, vocal-fried bed-hopper who wears chicken cutlets and butt pads while just lounging at home into a realistic, sympathetic underdog. I never questioned whether her ridiculous behavior was out of genuine cluelessness or whether she was in on the joke. Or both. She was just a delight. Every episode brought more depth, without making the characterization inconsistent. Even her instantly dated pop culture references in the voiceovers were hilarious and sweet.

And at her core, Eliza is just so relatable. Here comes my big soapbox speech. Being a woman in your 20s is freaking awful. It's a period fraught with confusion and double standards. You're trying to find out who you are, navigating relationships, building a career and trying to be taken seriously, feeling all this pressure to be hot and sexy but not too hot and sexy that you're threatening. You live in a fish bowl where everyone you've met since middle school instantly knows when you get dumped. Eliza faces all this, turned up to 11. And she might make a complete jerk of herself often, but she's trying, and damn it, we've all been there.

People say Gillan deserved better, but this was a fantastic role for her. The "better" she deserved was for ABC to give her, this show and its incredible supporting cast a chance. Which brings me to Point 2.

2. The supporting cast was phenomenal.

While the show is mostly about Eliza and her mentor/friend/soulmate Henry, played by John Cho, the cast is much bigger. Selfie doubles as a brilliant workplace comedy. First there's Charmonique, the receptionist at KinderKare Pharmaceuticals, where Eliza is a top sales rep and Henry is a big advertising mucky muck. I can't even deal with my love for Charmonique. I would watch a sitcom just about Charmonique and her life as a no-bull single mother to a precocious nugget-eating little boy, her $60,000 wig collection and her inability to support other people's love lives.

Then there's Eliza and Henry's regal but deeply inappropriate boss; his dorky son-in-law and office errand boy; Henry's dumb-as-a-box-of-hammers assistant; and Joan, proficient Yelper who never smiles and who embodies every disapproving tight-ass you've ever simultaneously wanted to impress and punch in the throat. Outside work, Eliza has her hipster Deschanel-wannabe neighbor Bryn and her vintage-clad book club. The show could never figure out whether it wanted them to be friends or antagonists to Eliza, but they were fun whenever they turned up.

I loved that no matter how many characters were introduced, the show never felt bloated. Every comical stock character fit. With more seasons, we would have been able to delve into their backstories and see them get their due.

3. Always love, man.

I am easily manipulated by will-they-or-won't-they storylines. This one ticks all my boxes. An initial Elizabeth and Darcy dynamic of disdain, mutual growth through opposites attracting, witty banter, sexual tension bubbling just under the surface...

... and stupid self-inflicted obstacles that make you scream at the TV "NO, WHAT ARE YOU DOING, YOU ARE MEANT FOR EACH OTHER!"

Let me back up and try to summarize the whole Eliza and Henry soap opera.

There are few people less suited on paper than Eliza and Henry. He's a workaholic who considers adding chicken to a salad a highlight of his night off. She spends more time at her desk blasting Wiz Khalifa and painting her nails than actually working.

But Eliza's antics bring Henry as close to guffawing as he's capable. He shows her how much of her life she's missing by being so plugged in and helps her start to exceed her own expectations of what she's capable of. They spend all their time together and manage to do that thing perfect couples do — fit perfectly in each other's lives as if they had always been there, while radically changing each other's lives. The compatibility paradox.

So of course, they are oblivious to their connection and screw it up.

First, Eliza gets with Freddy, another KinderKare employee who is basically the male version of her, with an Adonis belt and, according to Charmonique, "tongue-traceable jawline" to boot. But beyond sex, there's not a whole lot there for the pair.

Then, Henry gets with Julia, a humorless urologist who Eliza calls Henry's "tiny, sterile, micropocket lady-boy."

The relationships run in the background of what's really blossoming between Henry and Eliza. Eliza realizes how much Henry opens her up to the best version of herself and frees her from the blue haze of living inside her iPhone, and she dumps Freddie. She then proceeds to strip in front of Henry in an elevator in a misguided but damn sexy attempt to profess her feelings to him. Henry is floored and stutters out something about having to go feed his cat. "You don't have a cat," Naked Eliza says. "I have to go purchase a cat," Henry stammers.

Later, Eliza decides to get right to the point and demand Henry tell her how he feels. But Julia, Henry lamely protests. Their relationship is "healthy," "functional" and "smooth," he says, to which Eliza responds, "It sounds like you are literally describing a bowel movement" in a scene where Eliza laid herself bare about her feelings in a way charged with desperate longing.

Then, when Henry rejects her despite the fact he's basically broken up with Julia, Eliza gets trashed at the office karaoke party and performs a version of Sia's "Chandelier" that had me running to iTunes. The performance ends with a montage (intentionally?) reminiscent of Tove Lo's "Habits" video — and with Eliza stumbling right back into Freddie's arms in a slightly NSFW scene.

Even though they eventually heal the rift in their friendship, Henry realizes he wants a shot with Eliza, but it's too late — at least for this season. The best TV relationships take a while to unfurl. So it would make sense that this missed shot would eventually be followed by a slam dunk for the pair if the series had gone on. The VERY last moment of the show is Henry saying that the next time Eliza strips in an elevator, he's going to be ready for her. The great tragedy of Selfie being canceled is not seeing their relationship come to fruition. For a million reasons, including the fact that John Cho's casting in a romantic lead role is apparently a giant TV milestone.

I'm just a hopeless romantic who wants all the perfect TV couples to drive off into the sunset. I love happy endings. I love tied-up-with-a-bow. I hate cancellations after one season.

And so, it is with heavy heart that I lay Selfie to rest. It's a #shame. It's giving me the #feels. And I'm just going to have to, in Eliza's own words, "GIF my way through this."

Pour one out.