The New New York Novel
No two contemporary New York novels could differ more than Richard Price’s Lush Life and Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland. Price’s boom-era crime procedural speaks fluently in a million voices (beat cop, hipster, project kid) but limits its action to a few crowded square blocks of the Lower East Side. O’Neill’s tender post-9/11 elegy speaks in only one voice—its fussy, dourly lyrical, Dutch-banker narrator’s—but it roams widely over ethnic fringes of the city’s landscape (a Staten Island cricket field, an abandoned Brooklyn airstrip) that most New York novels ignore. Taken together, however, the books point a way out of a novelistic New York cul-de-sac; they refashion, yet again, the city as literary object. We’re through with the Machiavellian cash-orgy (Wolfe), the harsh yuppie playground (Ellis), and the scenic brownstone ruin anxiously awaiting its renaissance (Lethem). The new New York novel, per Price and O’Neill, doesn’t moralize (overtly), nostalgize (excessively), or employ the city as some grand metaphor in service of a Zeitgeisty social agenda. Rather, in this post-renaissance, possibly pre-apocalyptic era, it seems determined to revel in the brilliant weirdness of the now. The New York novel, in other words, has fallen back in love with New York.