Coincidentally, three books I read over the summer focused on the lives of the rich in New York City. And like any theme, once I noticed it, it was everywhere. So many books showing up in best of summer lists or pre-pub alerts were about rich New Yorkers.
To a certain extent, I get it. Lots of writers live in New York, plus the majority of publishing, so it’s no surprise that the city features prominently in fiction. Often, the city is a character in and of itself. But if you’re like me, you realize that there are interesting people who live in interesting cities that are not NYC.
Yet, the pull of the big buzz books are strong, and I couldn’t resist checking out these titles. Here’s what I thought about three of this year’s new releases about the lives of rich New Yorkers.
Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam
This was one of my favorites of my anticipated books for summer 2016. While the characters are very much dealing with the epitome of rich New Yorker problems, the characters were fully formed and the writing so insightful and introspective.
Though the book is very New York—Sarah is the daughter of socialite parents, and Lauren works in publishing—it’s really more of a character study and an examination of the interior lives of women. Class plays a role in the women’s friendship, for sure, but it’s more about the way that privilege has influenced their values.
Alam isn’t inviting readers to judge these women, but to know them.
We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley
I don’t read much psychological suspense, but when a galley of this landed on my desk, I started it on my lunch break and couldn’t put it down. Yes, the aging socialite at the center of the novel stinks of privilege, but I was really fascinated by this slightly creepy character study. While a colleague said she predicted the ending way in advance, I didn’t see it coming, so the twist was satisfying.
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
So many people have raved about this book, but it was not for me. Pitched as a comedy about four siblings desperate to inherit their family fortune to alleviate their poor financial planning and indulgent lifestyles, I just didn’t think it was funny, even if the scenes had witty dialogue. It’s not like I have to like the characters to enjoy a book—I mean, I love Russian literature—but I was not amused by these self-absorbed characters. Maybe it was the timing, but I regret the 4 months this took a precious slot on my library holds list (I can only have ten at a time!). This was one of those books that reminded me I don’t have to like—or even read—those big bestsellers everyone is talking about.
Of course, there are stories about New Yorkers who aren’t the 1%—I enjoyed Camille Perri’s The Assistants, the millennial version of Robin Hood in which assistants stick it to their bosses by paying off their student loans via forged expense reports. And rich people have problems all throughout the country. The forthcoming A Wife of Noble Character by Yvonne Georgina Puig is a tale of woe amidst oil barons of Houston. Of course, it’s based on an Edith Wharton novel, which goes to show that in 100 years, no one has matched her ability to peel back the shiny facade of the insanely rich.