Perhaps I’m something of a cynic (reader, I am) but I never trust a solo narrator. First of all, I consider it a constant of human nature that we are nothing if not our own unreliable narrators. How many lies do we tell ourselves on a daily basis, purely as a coping mechanism for existence? Alternatively—as my therapist once put it—nobody knows how the shoe fits except the person wearing it. Life is impossible, love is cataclysmic, and I say all that with fondness, because I may be a cynic, but I’m not a misanthropist. I find people endlessly interesting, and I don’t exclusively mean the likable ones. To me, character is king.
In my book Alone With You in the Ether, main characters and dual narrators Aldo and Regan are forced to reconcile with their own brokenness as they fall deeply—and at times problematically—in love. It’s my way of being as honest as I know how to be about both illness and love, because while their individual perspectives are intimate and revelatory, they aren’t not liars. Their self-perception is flawed, and they see the object of their affections in ways ranging from enlightening to delusional, alternately marked by adoration and uncertainty or fear. For me, the dual-sided structure is purposeful. If the story had only one narrator, how would we know The Truth?
As a lover of human complexity, I enjoy nothing more than a glimpse into both sides of a dynamic, ever-changing relationship. Thus, here are six books, films, and TV series depicting complex romantic relationships via dual points of view.
Normal People by Sally Rooney — I do mean both the book and the TV show, though for me the substantial difference is a tonal one; I read the ending of the book to mean one thing (we have irrevocably marked each other—derogatory) while the ending of the show suggested another (we have irrevocably marked each other—affectionate), purely on the basis of delivery. Either way, you need both perspectives to fully understand the way each character approaches intimacy, whether via emotional repression or masochism. (Party hat!)
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff — This book has irreversibly changed the way I read all romances, because the POV shift changes the meaning of the relationship so profoundly. Is love more or less real depending on the perspective, or is love the only shared truth of a relationship? It’s a thought experiment I carry with me as a writer and consumer of media.
Sleeping With Other People — What might easily be considered a romantic comedy (and it is not without comedy) is deceptively complex when we are shown both sides of a story about addiction, desire, and connection. Also, it has an amazing soundtrack.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone — This remarkable, intricate epistolary story about two enemy agents attempting to win at unraveling each other’s rival alterations to history is imaginatively complicated in its worldbuilding and beautifully simple in its approach to intimacy. It’s enemies to lovers at its finest because the stakes are high, the connection is undeniable, and we can experience the evolution from both sides.
Like Crazy — This film has one of the most depressing closing scenes I’ve ever seen, so viewer beware, but the whole story is an incredible look at the way love changes over time. Is it vulnerable to distance, to experience, to circumstance, to age? All of the above, and it is both harrowing and exquisite to witness.
The End of the F***ing World — This one I’m choosing from a narrative construction point of view, because one character’s story is told in present tense while the other narrates exclusively in past tense, a mechanism that shifts the story’s complexity upon conclusion of the first season. I say the first season because I have a toddler and haven’t watched anything aside from GBBO in almost two years, but the point stands that witnessing events from different (but magnetically attracted/increasingly invested) personalities just hits different.
Olivie Blake, the pseudonym of Alexene Farol Follmuth, is a lover and writer of stories. She has penned several indie SFF projects, including the webtoon Clara and the Devil with illustrator Little Chmura and the BookTok-viral Atlas series. As Alexene, she has written the young adult rom-com My Mechanical Romance. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, new baby, and rescue pit bull. Find her at olivieblake.com. Alone With You in the Ether is available now from Tor books