Earlier this month, I spent a week in New York City. While I was there, I started thinking about all the great fiction I've read that takes place in New York. It's not surprising, I suppose, that writers find inspiration in the Big Apple ... after all, Manhattan is the center of the publishing industry, and the city as a whole has drawn writers and other artists for more than a century. Still, it's interesting to think about the wide variety of novels for which New York City provides an evocative setting; in some cases, the city, or a part of the city, seems almost like a character in and of itself.
I decided to create a list of my ten favorite novels that take place in New York City. These range from classics to children's books, from historical fiction to contemporary novels. I know I have left out a few novels that some would say are quintessential New York stories . . . but these are my favorites. Here they are:
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton: Wharton's masterpiece about the Golden Age of Old New York is one of my all-time favorite books. The characters are magnificently drawn, and the satire about the elaborate customs of the city's aristocracy is witty and fascinating. You know, I think it may be high time I re-read this classic.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: Foer's beautifully written novel is layered and emotionally resonant. It is a 9/11 book, of course... but it's also about tragedy and grief in a larger sense, and how people can overcome terrible things and still live on.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: I loved this novel set in 1930s Manhattan. It's full of sharp and witty prose, and filled with interesting, multi-dimensional characters. A delicious and intelligent read.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg: As a kid, I relished this novel about two siblings who run away from their suburban life to the big city, where they hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: Egan's series of linked stories about people connected to the music business is set mostly in New York, although some of the narratives take place in California and other locales. I found this inventive book to be equal parts clever, funny, and sad.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Of course. This list just wouldn't seem complete without Fitzgerald's 1925 classic about decadence, excess, idealism, and the pursuit of the American Dream.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: Tartt's novel, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, is beautiful, flawed, and unforgettable. The Goldfinch struck me as very much a 9/11 story. The main character, Theo, loses his mother in a fictional terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is unmoored by the experience, and his psychological wounds take a decade to heal; Theo seemed to me to represent New York itself, struggling to recover after the tragedy.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: This classic and ground-breaking coming-of-age story about a girl sleuth living on the Upper East Side was one of my absolute favorite books as child. I must have read it a dozen times. Can you believe that it was first published in 1964 and celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year?
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann: McCann's intricate and gorgeously written novel of interconnected stories, set in 1970s New York, offers a nuanced portrait of love, loss, and hope.
The Alienist by Caleb Carr: Carr's literary thriller takes readers back to New York in 1896 and the seamy underside of the Gilded Age. The young Theodore Roosevelt, police commissioner of New York City, organizes a team of unlikely allies, including a psychologist or "alienist" in the parlance of the time, to hunt a serial killer targeting adolescent boys. Definitely an interesting companion piece to read alongside The Age of Innocence.
What do you think . . . Are these some of your favorite New York novels, too? What have I left out that you consider a great New York story?