Required Reading: 10 Devastatingly Sad Books

We’re the first to admit that, sometimes, the best cure for a hard week, a long day or just a rainy weekend is a really sad book. One of the saddest, and most compelling, to come to our attention this week is Michael Kimball’s gutting new novel, Us, about the slow death of a spouse and its effect on her devoted husband, who can merely watch as the person he loves begins to fade away. We consumed the entire book in one subway ride, and got more than a few strange glances our way as Kimball’s novel caused us to convulse with sobs. It wasn’t until someone asked us if we actually enjoyed Us (we did) that we begin musing on the strange relationship between sad books and ourselves as readers, and we wondered: what other books are out there for those who, like us, enjoy the occasional full-body sob and feeling of abject desolation as we’re absorbed into our reading material?

Before we began casting our nets, we set a few parameters for ourselves. First, no young adult novels. If we’d gathered YA, it would dominate the list. Yes, we love Where The Red Fern Grows, but we had to draw the line somewhere. Second, no books where an animal’s death serves as the emotional linchpin (we’re looking at you, Marley & Me). What we ended up with were 10 of the most emotionally wrecking books that we absolutely love. Did we miss your favorite? Please tell us in the comments.

A Widow’s Story by Joyce Carol Oates

“I do it so it feels real,” Sylvia Plath once wrote, “I do it so it feels like hell.” That’s the best way to describe Joyce Carol Oates’ widowhood memoir A Widow’s Story. Upon the passing of her husband, Raymond Smith, Oates immediately descends into a state of simultaneous hyper-awareness and detachment, a state in which every whisper, every passing breeze, every found artifact within her home seems to indicate that she, herself, should force herself to follow suit. For an author who projects such a powerful sense of self into every one of her works (see: Foxfire), catching a glimpse of Oates this vulnerable, this broken, is disarming. The reader works through the loss at the same pace Oates herself does; which is to say that by the end, we’re still there.