Holiday Reading List: Fiction about New York

This year, I am in a New York frame of mind for my holiday reading.  Although it has been almost two decades since I lived there, New York will always feel like home to me.  It's my city.

So what could be better than reading fiction where the city's the star player?  As it happens, this year, though a Facebook group, I discovered three fine novels written by women, each taking place in a different neighborhood in Manhattan, as well as an equally wonderful story collection.  To that I add, a volume from Library of America, by one of my favorite New York writers-- actually by one of my favorite writers.

So, download or buy, and relax.  These writers will give you a perfect Holiday New York Read.

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane Rosen

Few books truly earn the word charming-- and this is one of them. The author skillfully weaves nine women's tales (among them, a buyer at Bloomingdale's, and a would-be actress, to name two of my favorites) and connects them through, yes, the perfect little black dress, designed by an almost 90-year old immigrant designer.  Rosen deftly returns us to the origins of the garment industry (from Poland to Manhattan's West 30's) while not missing a beat. Sometimes, contemporary romance can be sticky-sweet, but who can resist a happy ending, especially when there are NINE of them?

The Anarchist's Girlfriend by Susan Weinstein

A treat to discover this almost-lost novel, now re-launched in a newly edited version.  (I've spoken with the author about the book's publishing history with the author, Susan Weinstein, here.)

Fashion's part of this New York story, too, in the form of a futuristic fashion muse (this heroine designs clothes of the future)  in The Anarchist's Girlfriend.  It is the New York of the '80s, in downtown Manhattan, with its blend offbeat politics, offbeat sensibilities, and the bizarre conspiracies.  Think: terrorist plots, wacky spiritualist plots, and of course, anarchist plots, all completely circular and self-enclosed-- and in Weinstein's hands, all colliding.  For lovers of Thomas Pynchon (that would be me) and Don deLillo, this novel is a densely-plotted, twisty joyride, faster than a New York subway, and laugh-out-loud funny.

The Next by Stephanie Gangi

From downtown Manhattan, zoom up to the Upper East Side, through the eyes of a jealous, outrageously sexy ghost named Joanna, and those she left behind (including her loyal dog.)  Don't worry about the ghostly part, because Joanna knows her shoe brands, movies, songs and swanky restaurants, as only a chic New Yorker can-- and she's determined to get revenge on the younger guy who dumped her for a celebrity skincare guru.  With biting feminist comedy, the smart Joanna, even in death, is more powerful than her shady Lothario-- and this spiritual page turner really delivers.

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins

Sometimes, when critics rave, I am skeptical, but this time, the accolades are well-deserved.  Kathleen Collins, who died at the age of 46, is that rare breed, a natural storyteller.  Every sentence in this collection made me want to read more: from the uncle who cried himself to sleep, to the "happy" family based on pretense, every moment is alive.  Aside from Grace Paley, it's hard for me to think of another short story writer who's captured the sense, the vibrancy, of New York life so accurately. Entire lives are captured in brief fragments- and each of them seems to contain mysteries only fiction can glimpse.  If you want to remember New York in the sixties and seventies, this is the book to read.    

Library of America:  Dawn Powell:  Novels 1944-1962 (Volume 2)

I am nuts about the work of novelist, Dawn Powell.  I plain old adore her.  Soulful, funny, and a razor-sharp wit-- and a true picture of New York in the 40s and 50s.

No one writes better about the pretensions and, yes, dreams of Manhattan.  Her plots are tight, her characters quintessential New Yorkers (from the hapless advertising executive who's fooling around more than is good for him to the young, on-the-make writers hustling their way up), her dialogue pitch perfect.  Here are the New York bars, with their array of drunken, self-indulgent would-be artists; the pseudo-swanky soirees with their array of has-beens, tired hostesses, and bored spouses, and the shifting and shifty landscape of success and failure.  Artists come and artists go in Powell's world, and one year's toast is next year's trash-- and it's never less than funny.

I own both volumes in the LOA collection.  But if you read only one, this second contains three of her Manhattan novels, including her hilarious masterpiece, The Golden Spur.

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