La Salle Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Harlem, 1946. Image via Todd Webb Archive/Museum of the City of New York.
There are plenty of books by writers who arrive in New York City, make it their home, and start chronicling it – amazed, amused, appalled, daunted, delighted, frustrated. And, most of all, viewing the city, to quote William Styron, as “a place as strange as Brooklyn.”
This is a list of fiction by native New Yorkers, writers who came of age in one of the city’s five boroughs, writers who lived out their childhoods in a world made of concrete, and writers for whom the strange place is the norm.
10. The Custom of the Country, Edith Wharton
5th Avenue in 1905. Image via Wikimedia Commons
Edith Wharton wrote about the New York City community that she grew up in, which remained a part of her for the rest of her life. Marriages were business deals, and the marriages of the fabulously named Undine Spragg, who arrives in New York City from the fictional Mid-Western city of Apex, all turn into failed business deals. Seeing early 20th century New York City through the eyes of the city’s upper classes is both eerie and amusing. Washington Square and West End Avenue won’t do for Undine; she’s set her sights on Fifth Avenue. Wharton, like us, seems to be strangely comforted by the unhappiness of the people who occupy those districts — always aspiring, never satisfied.