New York Subway Fiction Suggestions
September 22, 2008 7:15 AM   Subscribe

LiteratureFilter: Yo metafilterland. I'm on a quest for two things: literary representations of the new york city subway, the more personal and sensorial the better, and literary representations of a new york city without subways, circa before 1904. Non-fiction and suggestions are welcome as well, as are examples that use less stringent definitions of "text" (film, song lyrics, dance etc).
posted by billtron to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
NYC subway riding plays an important part in Thomas Pynchon's V.
posted by Prospero at 7:22 AM on September 22, 2008

Time and Again by Jack Finney.
posted by amro at 7:26 AM on September 22, 2008

Libra by Don DeLillo, opens with an extended description of a young Lee Harvey Oswald riding the subway trains.
posted by tallus at 7:33 AM on September 22, 2008

Garrison Kiellor writes about the subway now and then. There's a short piece in his collection "We Are Still Married," as well, that isn't published on the web.
posted by Miko at 7:42 AM on September 22, 2008


When you say "representations of New York without subways" are you looking for representations of the previous public transit systems (horsecars, steam trams, electric trolleys)?

A Hazard of New Fortunes by William Dean Howells has an uncommon number of scenes on the horsecars.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is an incredibly vivid portrait of 1870s New York.

There are a number of children's books published in the early 20th century that talk a lot about 19th-century New York and discuss the old public transit: Horsecars and Cobblestones by Sophie Ruskay is a fine one.

Lewis Mumford wrote some wonderful short memoirs about his childhood in turn-of-the-century New York; they were published in The New Yorker in the 1930s and are generally included in any collection you'll find of his works.


Joseph Mitchell's writing is like a spell to summon 20th-century Manhattan. The collection Up in the Old Hotel is a good place to start.

Also Dawn Powell. There's a bit about the subway in The Golden Spur.

Invisible Man has some subway stuff, including an interesting scene where the protag sees nuns praying on a subway platform.

On the Town has a subplot with one of the characters falling in love with "Miss Turnstiles" (based on the real life "Miss Subways" who was selected annually to represent the Transit Authority in advertising).

And of course, the TV show "Beauty and the Beast" (with Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman) took place in a New York underground kingdom that one could access through the subways.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:44 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Slake's Limbo, a 13 year old boy runs away and lives in the subway.
posted by jrishel at 7:48 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are parts of Scott Westerfeld's Peeps taking place in the tunnels and such, as well as other bits of underground NYC - also a fairly entertaining read.
posted by pupdog at 7:56 AM on September 22, 2008

There is an anthology of NYC subway stories called Subway Chronicles. I'd also recommend Finney's Time and Again.
posted by mattbucher at 7:58 AM on September 22, 2008

Speak, Hoyt Schermerhorn by Jonathan Lethem. (Also available in the collection The Disappointment Artist.)
posted by matildaben at 8:20 AM on September 22, 2008

One of the most bizarrely fascinating books I've ever read was Subway Lives, a 300+ page tome on the history of the New York subway systems. It talked about the history of transport in New York, as well as how changes in the system changed daily life in NY in ways no one would have predicted. (One of the goofy things I always remember was how when the base fare went from $1 to $1.05, the local economy of NY was inundated with millions of pennies that had been sitting in peoples homes in change jars for years. It affected tellers at banks, people making change in stores, the weight of bank deposits, the time it took store clerks to count change at the end of the night.)
Looks like it's out of print but available. Great read.
posted by 8dot3 at 8:21 AM on September 22, 2008

The 1967 film Dutchman takes place entirely in a New York City subway car. Also, The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3 is a great subway film.
posted by tractorfeed at 8:33 AM on September 22, 2008

Stretching the meaning of text - Dark Days
posted by Artw at 8:57 AM on September 22, 2008

Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground. This is a collection of ten filmed vignettes that all take place on the subway in New York, and all the vignettes are based on real-life experiences.
posted by orange swan at 9:28 AM on September 22, 2008

"The Alienist" and "The Angel of Darness" by Caleb Carr are set in New York pre-subway. Even has Teddy Roosevelt pre-President.
posted by machine at 9:47 AM on September 22, 2008

I have wanted to read The Mole People for quite some time now. There have been criticisms of its veracity, but it looks like a good read nonetheless.

It's not exactly about the subway, but Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City involves a secret network of tunnels underneath NYC, and is a pretty good read for a "young adult" book.

And if you're into the secrets-underneath-New-York theme, perhaps there's something in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles canon that'd interest you? Not sure how much they ride the subway, though.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:09 AM on September 22, 2008

The movie Gangs of New York portrays an almost mythological early New York, replete with secret Irish tunnels under New York and primitive large-scale ethnic clashes.
posted by ignignokt at 10:15 AM on September 22, 2008

Theres dark goings on beneath New York (and racism) in Lovecrafts The Horror at Red Hook.
posted by Artw at 10:27 AM on September 22, 2008

There's a scene in "Saturday Night Fever" in which John Travolta is wearing his flashy white disco duds in a grimy graffiti-covered subway car. (That was the subway of my youth and I'm always surprised when I visit NYC and the subways are reasonably clean and not breaking down at every other station.) It's a stretch to say this movie is about the subways, but the contrast between the system now and in the 1970s is pretty interesting.

In "Catcher in the Rye" Holden Caulfield leaves the fencing team's gear on the subway. Again a stretch, but how can you not mention "Catcher in the Rye" in connection with New York?
posted by Quietgal at 10:35 AM on September 22, 2008

Money Train isn't a particularly good movie, but a lot of it involves the subway
posted by Calloused_Foot at 11:52 AM on September 22, 2008

The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three is also a book.

Also, Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer is about NY about the time they were building the subways, but it's also fiction.
posted by SallyHitMeOntheHead at 2:30 PM on September 22, 2008

Large sections of Sol Yurick's The Warriors take place on the New York city L trains and subways
posted by tylerfulltilt at 5:05 PM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Traveling Light   |   Freeloader or soft partner? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.