Admit it. You think you've got the best story.
Even as you nod along while a heartbroken friend recounts their latest tale of lost love, you just know you have them beat.
We've all heard the basic plotlines. There are garden-variety cheaters, lovers who go poof! in the night, credit-ruiners, narcissists and jerks. And do not misunderstand -- all of those stories will do in a pinch.
Still, what readers yearn for is something different, something really heinous.
Lucky for navel-gazers everywhere, editor Michael Taeckens has compiled "Love Is a Four-Letter Word," a collection of remembrances on the topic of heartache so chock full of callous lovers the book is sure to satisfy even the most forlorn.
Taeckens, a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, also wrote the book's standout piece ("The Book of Love and Transformation"), a story both poignant and hilarious. When he falls for "Theo," a professor with a penchant for Aristotle's Poetics, Taeckens is certain he's found a perfect mate -- equal parts lover and literary mentor. When Theo rebuffs him, however, Taeckens winds up with something far creepier than just a broken heart.
The up-and-coming writers are the ones who make this collection unforgettable. D.E. Rasso, for example, recounts a punk-rock romance at Camden College in the Doc Marten era, offering up a gritty tale of sexual debasement that is not only highly readable, but sure to both repulse and resonate. (What more can a person ask for?)
Amanda Stern strikes an introspective note in her suspenseful tale, "Scout's Honor," about a terrifying camping trip with a man she thought she could trust with her life.
Dave White writes the collection's funniest story. "This Guy Who Was My Boyfriend" is a searing anatomy of a good-natured stalking from the point of view of the beleaguered stalkee. After hooking up with a man at a country bar who looks like Garth Brooks from the "fatter platinum-album years," White finds himself with a highly determined devotee on his hands.
"He had gone through the phone book and called all fourteen Dave Whites in Fort Worth until he got the machine with the right voice on it," he confides with a mixture of alarm and awe. "The messages on my answering machine became weirder. ... What had he done wrong? Why was I not returning his calls? By the end of the third week, the phone messages stopped. The last one was left on a Saturday afternoon ... [He told me] I thought I was too cool for a 'true country gentleman'..."
As long as we all have our own stories of heartache and woe, there will always be an enthusiastic audience for story collections like this one. Think your story can top some of these? Be forewarned: you'll have to make it a humdinger.
Andrea Hoag is a book critic in Lawrence, Kan.