10/25/2013 10:59 am ET Updated Dec 25, 2013

Another-Chance-at-Love Literature

As someone in a happy second marriage after an unhappy first one, I'm partial to novels featuring characters getting another chance at love. Those divorced, widowed or otherwise-unattached protagonists may or may not do better in their next relationship, but at least the "happily ever after" potential can put a smile on a reader's face.

And it's fun to analyze whether or not the fictional new relationship will work. Is it love or infatuation? Does age bring wisdom when choosing the next mate? Can a person widowed from a good marriage find a new partner as compatible as the deceased one? Does a divorced character make a better choice the next time or become desperate enough for companionship to get involved with someone as problematic as the ex? Questions, questions...

The idea for this post occurred to me this month while reading David Baldacci's One Summer, in which the widowed Jack meets the divorced Jenna after the two experience very different marriages. Jack had a happy, 16-year union with Lizzie before she died in a car accident at the same time that Jack was (seemingly) on death's door himself. Jenna had a brief, bad first marriage. Can Jenna trust a guy again? Can Jack let go enough of the memory of his beloved Lizzie? Can I stop asking rhetorical questions? Yes.

But can I stop mentioning Jane Eyre in blog posts? No. that novel focuses on the ultra-compelling relationship between the never-married Jane and the once-married Rochester. If ever a person needed another chance in the love department, it was Rochester. But there are complications... (Which can occur when, um, a first spouse is still in the picture.)

In some cases, a character needs to time-travel to Charlotte Bronte's century before a positive new relationship happens -- an approach even trickier than online dating! In Darryl Brock's If I Never Get Back, Sam Fowler is unhappily married (mostly his fault) before getting vaulted to 1869 from the late 20th century. There, he ends up playing baseball for the legendary Cincinnati Red Stockings before falling in love with the widowed sister of a teammate. Cait and Sam's fascinating relationship is also a major element in a sequel titled Two in the Field.

Or a character might need to travel in her own time to potentially have another chance at love. That's the case in Terry McMillan's How Stella Got Her Groove Back, in which the divorced Stella Payne visits Jamaica for some sun and meets a man young enough to be her son.

Speaking of age gaps, Grace McNab Salt of Fay Weldon's The Bulgari Connection ends up in a positive relationship with a much younger painter after her businessman husband dumps her for the much younger Doris Dubois. Barley Salt has his sexual fun for a while with the abrasive Doris, but, unsurprisingly, his trophy marriage ultimately isn't trophy-worthy. Perhaps he should have focused on changing his ridiculous name?

Then there are novels -- such as Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist -- that make one wonder whether or not a second relationship will ultimately be better than the first. Separated travel writer Macon meets divorced dog trainer Muriel, who is as spontaneous as Macon is reserved. Yet they kind of hit it off before Macon's estranged wife Sarah reenters the picture. Will Macon resume life with Sarah? Or will he choose Muriel, who accepts Macon's obsessive predictability and even loosens him up a bit -- yet is perhaps too eccentric?

Of course, a new relationship can end up being a disaster even if it seemingly starts out well. For instance, the at-first-exciting affair between married police guy Lester and abandoned-by-her-husband Kathy sets the wheels rolling toward tragedy in Andre Dubus III's House of Sand and Fog. Lust can fog the brain.

What are your favorite novels featuring characters who embark on another relationship that may or may not work out?

(Thanks to commenter "ae12wrangell" for recommending David Baldacci. I often put aside literary fiction to read popular fiction, and One Summer was excellent -- a tearjerker and page-turner, even if a bit implausible at times!)

In his often-humorous Comic (and Column) Confessional memoir, Dave Astor recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists, columnists and others such as Charles Schulz ("Peanuts"), Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Ann Landers, Hillary Clinton and Coretta Scott King. Contact Dave at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book -- which includes a preface by Heloise and back-cover blurbs by Arianna Huffington and Gary Larson ("The Far Side").