Feature Image Credit: @shejustlovesbooks
Those first days of fall, when the slight chill in the air impatiently pushes the heat of summer out the door, always hold the promise of a new beginning. Never has that been more true than this year in my beloved New York City, which suffered such devastation during these last 18 months. As the City comes back to life after Covid, with restaurants humming and Broadway dancing, what better time to dip your toes into fiction that features New York City. From the courtrooms of downtown Manhattan, to Central Park, to the labyrinth underground world of the subway, the novel is a tribute to the vibrancy of this great city. Here are nine great novels to get you started.
Both Are True by Reyna Marder Gentin
My own novel, Both Are True, offers a sneak peek into the life and work of a New York City family court judge and the complexity of relationships in the Metropolis. Judge Jackie Martin’s job is to impose order on the most chaotic families in New York City, then her world is turned upside down when the man she loves walks out on her. Jackie must finally put herself under the same microscope as the people she judges. When their worlds collide in Jackie’s courtroom, she learns that sometimes love’s greatest gift is opening you up to love others.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Take a trip back to the Gilded Age of New York City, set in the upper-class society of the 1870s. The first novel by a woman to win the Pulitzer, the story chronicles the struggle between love and social responsibility and the toll it can take on the individual. Supplement your reading with a stop at 14 West 23rd Street in the Flatiron District, where you’ll find a plaque marking Wharton’s childhood home.
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Another borough and a very different financial reality await you. This much-treasured novel takes place in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the early part of the 20th century, and you’ll feel the realities of tenement living and poor conditions. The story follows the Nolan family as they confront issues of poverty and alcoholism, but ultimately their resilience prevails.
The Two-Family House by Lynda Loigman
Staying in Brooklyn for a bit, this moving family drama chronicles two couples living in a Brooklyn brownstone in 1947, and the secret that changes their lives and the children’s lives forever.
Sex and The City by Candance Bushnell
As we wait for the Sex and The City reboot, why not go back to the original, Candace Bushnell’s 1997 novel of that same name (actually a compilation of essays she wrote for the New York Observer.) You may feel a little spare about your own social life in comparison to these New York City social antics, but I can promise you’ll be entertained.
Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney
Skipping ahead to 2017, this is a quietly intense novel, a funny and quirky ode to Manhattan that will have you wishing the protagonist had asked you to lace up and walk with her. Over the course of New Year’s Eve, 84-year-old Lillian traverses the city, encountering friends and strangers, and having just those sorts of magical conversations that happen between New Yorkers.
Jazz by Toni Morrison
In describing the milieu of Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Edna O’Brien calls Harlem “still relatively innocent” and “permeated with the thrum of music.” It’s a neighborhood where passions run high and sometimes out of control, and love refuses to be easily confined or defined. Morrison treats her readers to a visceral feel for the beat of the clubs and of the streets.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
This is not the Brooklyn of Betty Smith, although poverty and substance abuse abound. The novel is set in a housing project in the 1960s, and the cast of the characters and the locale they inhabit is strangely reminiscent of the Wild West. McBride takes the reader into the courtyards and through the tunnels of the project, to the storefront church and by the Italian-governed waterfront, all the while building an unlikely community that could only exist in New York City.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Take a dip into the New York City theater world of the 1940s in Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls. The alcohol is flowing, the nightclubs are hopping, and the love, or what passes for love among the young and beautiful, is yours for the asking. But the party can’t last forever, and crashing in New York City can be a cruel experience.
The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis
This historical fiction gives us New York in two time periods, 1913 and 1993. The story revolves around a single iconic building, The New York Public Library, and the story is an ode to book lovers everywhere.