The 25 most significant New York City novels of the last 100 years

Michael Cunningham: I agree that Chang-rae Lee should be more famous.

Kitamura: But he is very famous, right?

Cunningham: I know, I know. But there should be more statues. There should be more pop-up stores selling only Chang-rae Lee-related items. As with many of the others I sought out, this book portrays various New Yorkers. One of the things I love about living in the city is that you can not really go out and walk for 10 minutes and look at the people you pass on the street and imagine that you are somehow a typical member of it human species. That may be at least as true for New York as it is for any other major city, and possibly more.

Guadagnino: This leads me to my next question, and I will be particularly curious to hear what fiction writers in the group think about this: Is New York particularly suited to fiction?

Kitamura: I would say that stories can sometimes feel bigger in New York. I mean not just in terms of fiction, but when I’m in town, the stories, the dramas, the emotions all seem louder, and I think it lends itself to a certain kind of fiction. But Michael, you should answer – I’ve never written anything that’s going on in New York.

Cunningham: And I only seem to write things that take place in New York, primarily because I have lived here for a long time and feel that I can at least speak with some degree of authenticity about it. If I lived in Paris, the novels would take place in Paris. Although I suppose it is more possible for someone like me to live in a Paris where you will see very few people who are not like you.

Chotiner-Gardner: Michael, can I push back a little bit against that? I broadly agree with that premise. However, I think many New Yorkers live in enclaves. If you lived in the West Village where the bookstore I work in is and never left it, I think you would see a very small layer of New York. Although most of us wander around the city or try to take in different neighborhoods or even just ride the subway, some people seem to never do these things.

Cunningham: I fully understand that. There is no doubt that parts of New York have been sequestered. But I want to push back on the setback because I’m talking to you from the West Village, one and a half blocks from Washington Square Park. Spend the famous 10 minutes in the park and you will see a lot of non-white, boho residents in the village. It’s almost a question of which block we’re talking about.

Chotiner-Gardner: Yes, and how much would you like to see outside of yourself, right? How much one notices and gets to know other people’s experiences, therefore I think to a certain extent that we all come to books.

Kitamura: That’s also a good premise for character building, isn ‘t it? What they see and do not see as they move through the city. One thing, I think, the novel [as a form] is particularly good at capturing a relationship between an individual and a larger social context or structure. And I think New York is full of that. You may have unique stories that either engage or do not fit the city around them.

Leave a Comment