LURID: My Top 10 Bloody Valentines
LURID: vivid in shocking detail; sensational, horrible in savagery or violence, or, a twice-monthly guide to the merits of the kind of Bad Books you never want your co-workers to know you're reading.
Happy Valentine's Day! Whether you currently count yourself as a lover, or not, today's thoughts naturally turn to that biggest of Big Questions: what is Love, anyway?
A friend once told me that his version of Love was watching his girlfriend drink coffee in the morning and thinking “everything is going to be alright”. That’s cute, but... really? I’d say Love is the polar opposite; it’s glimpsing your loved one doing something innocuous (like sucking on a latte) and experiencing a stomach-churning mix of terror, vulnerability, pain, ecstasy and the discomfiture of your blood leaving your brain and flooding your nether regions. It should make you stumble. It should make you weep. It should make you painfully aware that everything is not “alright”, and it never will be again so long as both of you exist on this planet — and in some cases, thereafter, and down the generations of your luckless descendants.
In my book(s), Love is... dangerous, insane, complicated, dirty, vicious, inconvenient, overwhelming, destructive, humiliating and often fatal. Bad Books are not driven by healthy relationships. Au contraire, the dynamism comes from couplings that are twisted, unnatural, shocking and just downright wrong. The flame of passion blazes even brighter because there's nothing safe, stable or sensible about the connection between two individuals. Does anyone really want to read about "happily ever after"?
If you want genuine fireworks this Valentine's Day, instead of the sappy, Hallmarked, cute-coffee-drinker variety, then let these Lurid couples illuminate how Love truly burns.
1. Clarice and Hannibal (Silence of the Lambs/Hannibal by Thomas Harris)
He’s a six-fingered sociopathic genius who knows no fear. She’s an orphaned farm girl who’s fought her way all the way into the Eff Bee Eye, and the only thing that can raise his heart-rate even a notch. He gets her, like nobody else ever does or did ("Did you ever think, Clarice, why the Philistines don't understand you? It's because you are the answer to Samson's riddle. You are the honey in the lion"). Theirs is a love that never dares speak its name until Hannibal “invites” (i.e. kidnaps, drugs and brainwashes) Clarice over for dinner and serves her sweetbreads, fresh from the skull of her still-living professional nemesis. Awww! While she refuses to become the re-incarnation of his long-murdered sister, Mischa, she finally accepts they're soul-mates and seems happy to roam the world at his side, visiting art galleries and terrifying former adversaries. FILE UNDER: Whatever it takes to make the lambs stop screaming.
2. The Monster and his Mate (Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)
The greatest love story that never was. He’s a monstrous aberration in the sight of God, cobbled together from the body parts of hanged convicts by mad scientist, Victor Frankenstein. She’s cut from similar cloth, but “might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness” and be capable of producing “a race of devils... propagated on the earth who might make the very existence of man a condition precarious and full of terror”. So, despite the Monster’s great hopes, and Victor’s solemn oath, she gets torn to pieces and tossed into the sea before she’s ever allowed to live. A devastated Monster then suffocates Victor’s bride on his wedding night as payback. Talk about caught in a bad romance! FILE UNDER: Lightning never strikes twice.
3. Miss Jessel and Peter Quint (The Turn of the Screw by Henry James)
He’s the ambitious but sinister valet (“there had been matters in his life, strange passages and perils, secret disorders, vices more than suspected...impudent, assured, spoiled, depraved. ‘The fellow was a hound’.”) with a penchant for wearing his absent master’s fancy waistcoats. She’s the well-born governess possessed of “extraordinary beauty” who doesn’t seem to mind that Quint is “so dreadfully below” her station. They get it on, corrupting two young children and half a dozen housemaids in the process. Even after both of them die in karmically-related accidents, they persist in treading the corridors of stately Bly, to the increasing horror of Jessel’s replacement. What’s more frightening than a child molester? A hellish pair of dead child molesters “with a determination - indescribable. With a kind of fury of intention” to claim what they think is theirs. Downton Abbey this ain’t. FILE UNDER: Not in front of the children.
4. The Narrator and Ligeia (Ligeia by Edgar Allen Poe)
He’s a wealthy, indolent opium-eater. She’s raven-tressed, with sparkling white teeth and huge black eyes “even fuller than the fullest of the gazelle eyes of the tribe of Nourjahad”. He can’t remember how they met or if he has ever heard her mention her last name. Nonetheless, Reader, he marries her. Ligeia, unusually for a nineteenth century heroine, is possessed of a burning will to live, “a more than womanly abandonment to a love”, so much so that she refuses to let a little thing like terminal tuberculosis stand in the way of her passions. After her death, her junkie husband (“in a moment of mental alienation”) marries the unlucky, fair-haired and blue-eyed Lady Rowena, but prefers to spend his opium dreams thinking fondly of Ligeia (yes, he shouts out her name). It’s not clear whether her “vehemence of desire for life” or his “consuming ardor...for the departed” pulls Ligeia back from the grave, but before you know it, Lady Rowena’s dead and her reanimated corpse is rising from the bier, sporting black hair and even blacker eyes. You may well shriek aloud: the bitch is back. FILE UNDER: Stay high. All the time.
5. Arnie Cunningham and Christine (Christine by Stephen King)
He’s an acne-mottled teenage loser, described even by his best friend, Dennis, as “pimple city”. She’s a 1958 Plymouth Fury, her windscreen “a snarled spiderweb of cracks. The right rear deck was bashed in, and an ugly nest of rust had grown in the paint-scraped valley. The back bumper was askew, the boot-lid was ajar, and stuffing was bleeding out through several long tears in the seat covers, both front and back. It looked as if someone had worked on the upholstery with a knife”. Nonetheless, it’s love - technically, mechanophilia - at first sight. Dennis believes the relationship “was bad from the start. And it got worse in a hurry”. Arnie neglects everything else in his life in favor of Christine, who, oddly, doesn't seem to need much help on the repair front and soon returns to her former glory. Once the auto-wrecked bodies start piling up, however, and Arnie develops the back problems, profane vocal tics and general misanthropy of Christine’s previous owner, Dennis decides it’s time to stage an intervention. One involving a twenty thousand gallon tanker truck named Petunia. FILE UNDER: Collision, personal injury, fire and theft.
6. Frank and Cora (The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain)
He’s a drifter who gets hired by Nick the Greek to work at his roadhouse. She’s Nick’s wife, not “any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.” Frank’s immediately afflicted (“I let everything come up. It was like hell the lunch, or the potatoes, or the wine. I wanted that woman so bad I couldn’t even keep anything on my stomach.”) and it’s love at first bite (“I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.”). Together they plot to kill the Greek but discover that co-conspiring a murder isn’t the best basis for a relationship: "We're chained to each other, Cora. We thought we were on top of a mountain. That wasn't it. It's on top of us." Although their feelings for one another never lose their intensity, the passion is forever corrupted and spoiled. "There's nobody else. I love you, Cora. But love, when you get fear in it, it's not love any more. It's hate." Oh yes, it ends in tears. FILE UNDER: Going postal.
7. Lestat and Nicki (The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice)
He’s a shabby aristocrat, the seventh son of a Marquis, a local hero for killing wolves. He’s the son of a wealthy draper who dresses in the height of Louis XVI fashion and plays the violin, much to his father’s chagrin. They both consider themselves “impossible”. The first time Lestat hears Nicolas’ musicianship, he is undone:
He ripped into the song. He tore the notes out of the violin and each note was translucent and throbbing. His eyes were closed, his mouth a little distorted, his lower lip sliding to the side, and what struck my heart almost as much as the song itself was the way that he seemed with his whole body to lean into the music, to press his soul like an ear to the instrument.
As mortals, they’re “partners in sin... We've both behaved badly, both been utterly disreputable. It's what binds us together." They run away to Paris, to live the Bohemian dream until their idyll is ripped apart by the Dark Trick of a vampire’s kiss. While Lestat thrives in his new form, Nicki goes slowly insane and finally self-immolates, leaving Lestat to wander through the centuries alone. FILE UNDER: Love is friendship that catches fire.
8. Humbert and Dolores (Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov)
He’s “a shining example of moral leprosy”. When they first meet, she’s twelve, “standing four feet ten in one sock”. He’s fleeing the memory of his first, interrupted, sexual experience where he never got to consummate his love of “a little girl with her seaside limbs and ardent tongue.” She’s the daughter of his landlady, able to induce in him “a state of excitement bordering on insanity”, inducing the swelling of “the hidden tumor of an unspeakable passion” with the laziest scissor of her sunburnt legs. Humbert marries “that Haze woman”, her mother, who conveniently dies in a car accident leaving Humbert and his Lolita to finally get it on (“it was she who seduced me”). Fantasy fades to frustration as the unlikely couple spend a year traveling from motel to motel, faking the whole father/daughter paradigm, until she runs off with another older man. A pornographer! Nice! FILE UNDER: It'll never last.
9. Christine and Erik (The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux)
She’s a beautiful ingenue, possessed of an angelic voice. He resembles nothing so much as a rotting corpse. She’s making her mark at the opera company. He’s lurking in the cellars, terrorizing the corps de ballet —
He is extraordinarily thin and his dress-coat hangs on a skeleton frame. His eyes are so deep that you can hardly see the fixed pupils. You just see two big black holes, as in a dead man's skull. His skin, which is stretched across his bones like a drumhead, is not white, but a nasty yellow. His nose is so little worth talking about that you can't see it side-face; and the absence of that nose is a horrible thing to look at. All the hair he has is three or four long dark locks on his forehead and behind his ears.
Erik keeps busy blackmailing the theatre managers, and coaching the rising singing star from behind her dressing room wall. Shit gets weird after the Opera Ghost (he signs letters as "O.G."!) is denied his usual spot in Box Five - cue the apparent suicide of a stage manager, a prima donna croaking like a toad onstage, and a 200 kilo chandelier crashing into the audience - and in the resulting hubbub Erik kidnaps Christine and takes her down into the cellars hoping she’ll fall in love with him. Like that’s ever worked. Christine’s childhood sweetheart, Raoul, is on hand to reclaim this Persephone, but Erik fights back with every torture tool at his disposal. Respect is certainly due to his devotion — he dies of a broken heart, she disappears into obscurity, never to sing again. FILE UNDER: Pretend the cheesy musical never existed.
10. The Little Mermaid and the Prince (The Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen)
She’s an undersea princess fascinated by the glimpses she’s had of human life. He’s a shipwrecked prince she saves from the tempest. She spends many long nights gazing on him from afar (luckily he’s heir to a coastal kingdom) and yearns to get up, close, and on dry land. No longer thrilled by her mermaidy essence, she braves the horrors of the Sea Witch’s lair, surrounded by “hideous polyps”, in search of enchantment. The Sea Witch offers her a potion that will transform her tail into legs, albeit every step she takes will be like “treading upon sharp knives, so sharp as to draw blood”. So the Little Mermaid gives up everything, her family, her seaweed domain, her fish tail, and most, importantly, her voice (the Witch cuts out her tongue) in return for human limbs. When she reaches the palace, the Prince treats her like his idiot pet, and, along with the whole court, enjoys watching her dance her way through excruciating pain before he marries someone else, thus condemning her to oblivion. Even a last ditch attempt by her loyal sisters (kill him! get your tail back!) can’t save the little Mermaid from sacrificing herself in the name of unrequited love. Forget Disney, it’s the saddest, goriest fairy tale you’ll ever read. FILE UNDER: He’s just not that into you.
Honorable Mentions: Catherine & Heathcliffe, Cathy & Christopher Dollanganger, Antony & Cleopatra, Ennis Del Mar & Jack Twist, Quasimodo & Esmeralda.
Who would you nominate? And is there anyone who'll die of a broken heart for you?
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