My youngest brother was going through a particularly brutal breakup in his early twenties when he told me the only two people who understand a relationship are the two people in it… and most of they time they don’t understand it either. That statement stuck with me for the better part of the decade as one of those wise truths only somebody who is currently heartbroken can spout (fun fact: he ended up marrying that girl who broke his heart so he must have been right).
Relationships are complicated and nothing quite brings that out like the holidays. In September Netflix released a brilliant show called Easy. It’s a show with eight half-hour shorts following different couples, singles and families in different stages of relationships highlighting no matter if you are single, childless, pregnant or raising children it’s never really easy. But unlike some shows that can focus on all the negatives, nearly every short has a moment of peace where you are reminded that while love may be complex there is joy and beauty in whatever stage you are struggling through.
Each of the following novels is a book that you might enjoy if you particularly connected to a certain episode of Easy
As always if you like what you see click-through using the link. It’ll take you to Amazon at no cost to you, but it’ll help me keep my Netflix subscription from going to collections.
Episode 1: The F**king Study
Kyle is a stay at home dad, while Annie brings home the bacon. The two are confronted with how even the most progressive couples can struggle when a friend brings up a unnamed study that revealed gender normative couples have better sex lives. As a result Annie decides to try to spice up their sex life, and while it doesn’t go exactly as planned it has a comfortable ending.
First of all let me hop onto my ginormous stallion and say IT’S ABSOLUTELY CRAP HOW FEW BOOKS FEATURE STAY AT HOME DADS. Absolute. Sexist. Crap. There is a growing genre of children’s books about stay at home dads, thank God (and also a HUGE romance genre for single dads), but for the most part it’s pretty bleak. Certainly, no novels that deal with the complications in relationships that come for those dads who are primary caretakers.
For Whom the Minivan Rolls: An Aaron Tucker Mystery is about as close as you’re going to get to follow the life of a stay at home dad. Like Kyle in “The F**king Study” Aaron Tucker is a struggling artist who stays at home with his kids while his wife works a corporate job. Unlike Kyle, Aaron becomes an amateur investigator. It touches on the relationship between Aaron and his wife while dealing with the complications of being a stay at home dad. About as close as you are going to get in this sub-genre that still has room to grow.
Episode 2: Vegan Cinderella
A very young lesbian couple are in that stage of life where they are learning what it means to please your partner. After a night of passion Chase learns that her new lover is vegan activist. This revelations encourages Chase changes nearly every aspect about herself to fit that mold to please her girlfriend. What was surprising to me wasn’t the storyline… it’s a tale as old as teenage angst, but the ending…which was very well done.
Changing aspects of your personality is a pretty classic younger human problem. By the time most of us are in our late twenties we’ve learned some changes encourage growth, some are stifling, and how to discern between the two. Keeping that in mind adults books on this topic are few and far between but there is a wealth of YA books. Because the YA genre is still catching with LGBTQ books there’s no perfect parallel to this episode. Since the focus of “Vegan Cinderella” is on changing yourself for your partner and not on coming out I chose Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.
Star Girl is the story of a very unique young woman who arrives at high school in a burst of oddities. At first she is popular and captures the heart of Leo, but then the school turns on her and she’s shunned for all the things that make her spectacular. Leo encourages her to change to fit in, but Stargirl is one of those people who can’t help but stand out.
Episode 3: Brewery Brothers
Matt is an expecting father with a job he despises. After finding out the gender of his baby he reconnects with his brother over brewing beer. They start a secret (and illegal brewery) a development he hides from his pregnant wife.
Should a couple share everything? More mystery less history? Should you forgive your spouse anything? How do you go about apologizing when the other person is wrong too? These are all the questions “Brewery Brothers” addresses in a short thirty minutes. I loved how candid this episode was, I loved the wife’s reaction, and her reaction to the reaction, I loved the realistic healthy way betrayal is dealt with.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty also works hard at address these questions, it is a story of the secrets we keep and the things we are willing to forgive. A complex novel following several families and secrets this novel is both engrossing, demanding, and surprising.
Episode 4: Controlada
This short follows Gabi who is happily married to reliable Bernardo. Her unreliable ex-boyfriend Martin shows up at their door and stays with them a few days while exploring the city of Chicago. Gabi suddenly finds herself struggling with the road not travelled.
I had a CPE supervisor that once pointed out that every yes is a no. So when you say “yes” to the right man you are saying no to potentially every other man past, present, and future. That’s a tall order, and one I think many women struggle with, especially when life is difficult or boring
Tempting Fate by Jane Green is the story of Gabby who is in a happy relationship with her husband Elliot. She would never consider cheating on him until she meets Matt who makes her feel pretty, sparkly, and fun. It’s a story of the selfish things we sometimes do to the people we love.
Episode 5: Art and Life
Jacob is a graphic novelist who uses women in his personal life as muses for his work. He sleeps with a young fan who, in turn, uses him in her own work. A “betrayal” he discovers when he sees his buck-naked bum on display at an art gallery.
Part of what makes this episode such a train wreck is just how oblivious Jacob is to his hypocrisy. As my mother would say… “He can dish it but he can’t take it.” J.K. Rawlings in her book A Casual Vacancy captures much the feeling of small town hypocrisy is a way that in infuriating and engrossing.
For heaven’s sake do not read it expecting Harry Potter, in fact, imagine a completely different author wrote it. This book delves dark and deep into the gross parts of the human soul.
Episode 6: Utopia
A married couple with a new baby attempt to spice up their life by using Tinder to find a participant for a threesome. We don’t see what happens beyond the threesome… but from what clinical experience I have I imagine that would be far more interesting.
Threesomes are making an explosion in the modern world, without much examination of the consequences. From what I’ve read and studied it is really difficult for a relationship to continue long term after a threesome due to jealousy, difficulty communicating and the challenge of continuing to up the excitement.
Married Sex by Jesse Kornbluth deals with these issues in a sharp tale of a modern marriage that ventures into threesome territory. Like “Utopia” this book is erotic in nature, although not salacious.
Episode 7: Chemistry Road
Sophie is young and in a committed relationship. She decides that’s not who she wants to be anymore and breaks up with her long-term boyfriend to explore being single. Meanwhile Annabelle, an older friend, cannot see the positive side of being single and wants a steady relationship more than anything.
My husband and I took a break during our engagement. Having been with him for 3 years I was excited to remember what it was like to be single and free. All the fun stuff that comes with being able to do exactly what you want when you want. Suddenly; however, when I was alone I remembered all the things I loved about being with him and having somebody to move through life with. Grass is greener syndrome is an easy cancer of relationships.
I called How to be Single by Liz Tuccillo the “everybody is f****d book. Single? you’re screwed. Married? Screwed. Got a kid? screwed. Everybody is doomed to perpetual unhappiness (a similar promise with opposite results of Easy).
How to be Single is absolute nothing like the movie that is supposedly based off the book. Like not even close to the same story line. At all. The book follows a reporter’s journey around the world to see how people live when they are single, while her friends back home deal with their own difficult love lives. It’s a decent book especially if you like Easy and gives a full view of how easy it is to wish for what someone else has, making it a good pick for this episode in particular.
Episode 8: Hop Dreams
In this short the family from “Brewery Brothers” is revisited, with the focus on the other brother Jeff. A reporter shows up the garage brewery wanting to write an article exposing the secret. This unexpected visitor drives a wedge between the brothers when they realize they both have a different vision for where the company is going.
Family businesses are tough. You’d think it’d be easier to work with people who understand when you need vacation time but you’ve got a whole lot of other problems most people never consider. RE: sitting next to your boss every Thanksgiving. I’ve got a front row seat to the circus and there are a lot of dynamics even the closest observers don’t quite understand. Families are an entity unto themselves and it’s impossible not to have conflict which make “Brewery Brothers” a realistic portrayal of family business and relationships.
The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman isn’t a perfect parallel for “Hop Dreams” but it’s close. In this novel two women who share a brownstone birth and raise their children together but slowly, bit by bit, their relationship crumbles without anybody really understanding why. As in “Hop Dreams” the protagonists face the choice of holding on or letting go.