Jul 11 2012 9:30am

Breaking Dishes and Setting Fires: Revenge-Inspired Songs and Stories

Adele’s 21Adele’s 21 took the world by audible storm, the singer’s very real and poignant failed romance resonating with anyone who’s ever fallen in love, and had it fall apart. 21 is perhaps the most successful heartbreak recording of all time, but there is no shortage of broken heart songs—and romance novels—to make beautiful art out of heartbreak. H&H blogger Brittany Melson takes a look at revenge songs, below, and we’re also running a sweepstakes for a chance to win a copy of Marc Shapiro’s Adele: The Biography so you can read more of what inspired 21’s anguish.

Falling in love isn’t always hearts and flowers and moonlight serenades. Sometimes the experience is rife with anxiety and depression. Insecure partners wonder, “Will he cheat on me?” “Will she abandon me?” “Will he chop my heart into a thousand tiny pieces and feed the bloody mush to his pet hyena?” And sometimes the answer to all of those questions is “yes.”

That’s when jilted lovers must turn to angry breakup songs and revenge-themed romance novels for emotional catharsis. Because in life, it’s not always a good idea to set cheating partners’ clothes on fire, steal all their money, or vandalize their cars. But when it comes to art, anything goes.

There are three possible responses to a breakup: homicidal rage, suicidal depression, and/or acceptance. Acceptance seems like the most difficult, albeit healthy, response to the demise of a relationship. Some very healthy individuals adopt the motto, “The best revenge is being happy.” Their theme song is the old classic “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra. When the singer’s lover cheats on her, she says, “Well, these boots are made for walkin’/And that’s just what they’ll do/One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.”

Quicksilver Ranch: Roped and Ready by Marie TuhartWhile the phrase “walk all over you” could be construed as somewhat violent, at least metaphorically speaking, Marie Tuhart’s BDSM-themed erotic romance novel Quicksilver Ranch: Roped and Ready gives the phrase new, potentially exciting possibilities. When Becca Dalton catches her fiancé cheating on her, she quits her job and flees to the Quicksilver Ranch for a quick getaway, not realizing that she’s inadvertently joined a couples’ sex retreat. When she tries to leave, her old college buddy Tyler, who owns the ranch, agrees to be her sexual partner. Together, they explore bondage, light BDSM, and more. In other words, if your partner cheats on you, maybe it’s time to become a dominatrix and make him beg for mercy.

Walking away from a broken relationship is considerably more difficult, however, when there’s infidelity involved. Some jilted partners may choose to hit their men where it really hurts—in their bank account. In the perennial classic “Hit ’Em Up Style” by Blu Cantrell, the singer urges women to “get your hands on his cash and spend to the last dime for all the hard times” because “revenge is better than money, you see.” On the way to ruin her cheating partner financially, the singer grabs her girlfriends “Sole and Mia” as back-up.

A similar girl-power themed revenge novel is the humorous Miranda’s Big Mistake by Jill Mansel. The heroine Miranda works in a hair salon in London and encounters a variety of awful men on her path to true love, but it’s her relationships with her female friends that really drive the plot. And the best part of all is that the dishonorable men get what they deserve in the end.

Sometimes a woman doesn’t have to have concrete evidence of a man’s infidelity in order to be overcome by her violent tendencies. In “Before he Cheats” by Carrie Underwood, the man’s “probably” doing a lot of bad things, like “slow dancing with a bleached blond tramp,” but his angry girlfriend responds as if his betrayal is definite. She says, “I dug my key into the side of his pretty little suped up four-wheel drive, carved my name into his leather seats. I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights, slashed a hole in all four tires/Maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats.”

Knock Me for a Loop by Heidi BettsSimilarly, in Knock Me For a Loop by Heidi Betts, Grace destroys her hockey-star fiancé’s possessions because she suspects him of cheating on her. When he’s injured, Grace grudgingly agrees to care for him, and he has his work cut out for him trying to convince her that he’s not the awful guy she thinks he is.

In the face of suspected betrayal, women can temporarily lose their fear of felony charges and prison time. They become unhinged. In “Breakin’ Dishes” by Rihanna, the singer suspects her man of cheating, so she says, “I’m breakin’ dishes up in here all night/I ain’t gonna stop until I see police lights/I’m ’a fight a man tonight.”

While fighting a man obviously didn’t work out too well for Rihanna herself, violent behavior is not an unusual response to adultery. In Their Separate Ways by Michelle Sutton, Brenda, who is pregnant, becomes mentally unstable when she learns about her husband Tony’s adultery and threatens to take his son away—among other things. Ironically, Their Separate Ways is actually an inspirational romance novel, but the pain caused by adultery can inspire violence in even the most religiously faithful individuals.

Florence + the MachineThe female heroines of paranormal romance novels, who aren’t always governed by the rules of modern society, sometimes respond to their bad breakups with homicidal intentions. For example, in Deceived by the Others, an H+W Investigations novel by Jess Haines, the heroine Shiarra Waynest’s boyfriend betrayed her in a truly awful way. In Stalking the Others, which will be released on July 3, Shiarra faces the possibility of shifting into a rogue werewolf on the full moon, and she wants to kill the people who hurt her—or die trying. The perfect theme song to accompany the book’s release is “Howl” by Florence + The Machine, which says, “If you could only see the beast you’ve made of me/I held it in, but now it seems you’ve set it running free.” Similarly, Shiarra’s passion has been unleashed, and the men who hurt her will suffer the consequences.

Sometimes the victims of bad breakups turn their anger inwards and sink into a deep depression. In The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg, the heroine, sixteen-year-old Brie, dies of a broken heart when her boyfriend rejects her, and she ends up as a lost soul in limbo haunting him. Similarly, the song “Tore My Heart” by Oona says, “Somewhere you’re fast asleep/I hope you’re terrified/One wild nightmare/Cause you tore my heart.” Apparently, not even death can cure the pain caused by a breakup.

Heart of the Matter by Emily GiffinEven when a bereft lover doesn’t actually die from a broken heart, she still has to grieve the death of her relationship. In “Funhouse” by P!nk, the singer reflects on how the “echoes” in her empty house remind her of happier times when she was still together with her partner. She says, “I’d rather live out on the street than in this haunted memory.” Similarly, The Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin deals with the lethal effects of infidelity on a family’s hopes and dreams. The heroine Tessa gave up her career to be a homemaker. She devoted her life to caring for her kids and supporting her talented husband Nick, who’s a pediatric plastic surgeon. But when Nick has an affair with Valerie, a single mother whose son was badly burned in a terrible accident, Tessa has to face the reality that there’s a huge crack in the foundation of her marriage, and she has to decide whether or not to try and fix it or to let it fall apart.

In the end, bad relationships leave an indelible mark on an individual’s heart and soul. Adele said it best in “Rolling in the Deep” when she sang, “The scars of your love remind me of us/They keep me thinking that we almost had it all.” Relationships tend to live long past their expiration date. For example, Adele sings, “See how I’ll leave, with every piece of you/Don’t underestimate the things that I will do.” Similarly, in Return to Sender by Fern Michaels, the heroine Rosalind leaves with a literal piece of the hero—his son. Nearly two decades later, when the son is grown and attending college at N.Y.U., Rosalind encounters her son’s father and vows to destroy him financially. Revenge might not be as satisfying as she anticipated, however, as love becomes a more enticing possibility.

In the end, the romance genre celebrates the idea that love is like a phoenix and can never be completely destroyed. Even when a relationship goes down fantastically in flames, there’s always hope for a new beginning, a better tomorrow, and the coveted happily ever after.


Brittany is a freelance writer, aspiring novelist and small business owner who hopes that heaven will be like a bookstore with an endless supply of free books, free coffee and super comfy chairs.

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
These look like some fantastic recommendations, thanks! Love love love Adele's and Florence's music.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
Brittany, this is so true:
"love is like a phoenix and can never be completely destroyed."
I love that! Thanks for this--I think one of my favorite heartbreak songs is the Avett Brothers' "I and Love and You."
Brittany Melson
3. BrittanyMelson
@redline--Florence + the Machine's albums are the most played items in my itunes library. I've listened to them, like, a hundred times, and Adele's not far behind. I found out about Florence because Kiersten White said in a blog post (or somewhere) that she listened to some of Florence's songs while writing her books.

@mframptom--Thank you:) And I'm checking that song out as we speak.
4. SassyT
Nothing like a good breakup/revenge song. I don't remember reading any revenge books though. I'll have to check these out. I'd like to add Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" in which she says "...standing in the front yard telling me how I'm such a fool/Talking 'bout how I'll never ever find a man like you/Got me to say/You must not know 'bout me/You must not know 'bout me/I can have another you in a minute/Matter fact he'll be here in a" Nothing like kicking a dude out and when he tells you that you are going to be sad without him to let him know you can find someone else pretty quickly to replace him because he wasn't that special to start with.
Brittany Melson
5. BrittanyMelson
@SassyT I forgot about that Beyonce song. It is really good. And you're right that it's not all that easy to find female revenge romance--plenty of male revenge romance, particularly in historicals, but not as much female revenge.
6. Holliambria
Reading about infidelity and violence reminded me of Jenny Cruisie's heroine Agness from Agnes and the Hitman. She has a history of hitting people over the head with frying pans when they start lying to/cheating on her. She's also really fond of the Dixie Chicks, who have some great breakup and revenge songs.
Brittany Melson
7. BrittanyMelson
@holliambria Agnes sounds awesome. I must admit a certain fondness for violent heroines:)
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