Literary-ish novels about relationships/families/"first world problems."
August 23, 2015 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I've recently been practicing escapism by devouring novels about comfortably bourgeois (urban, middle-class or wealthy) people dealing with familial and romantic relationships and the mundane traumas and joys of fortunate lives. Looking for recommendations in this vein!

My favorite reads of this kind generally follow someone or a group of someones over a few years or decades. Think: Claire Messud (Emperor's Children), Jennifer Close (Girls in White Dresses), Vikram Seth (A Suitable Boy), Shari Goldhagen (In Some Other World, Maybe), Meg Wolitzer (The Interestings), Jonathan Dee (The Privileges). I also dig a wedding novel, a la The Romantics or Seating Arrangements. Just finished Everybody Rise and now I'm at a loss for what to read next in this vein.

I'd love some recommendations -- preferably published in the last five or ten years.
posted by mylittlepoppet to Writing & Language (39 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
John Barth - The Tidewater Tales. The story happens over a relatively short period of time, so it misses your criteria on that point, and it was published in 1987, but it hits your above-the-fold requirements.

I found the first part kind of annoying - "Why are these privileged people whining about their privileged lives?!?" - but I quickly became engrossed and enjoyed it quite a bit.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 10:34 AM on August 23, 2015

Jeffrey Eugenides - The Marriage Plot
posted by terretu at 10:42 AM on August 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

This sounds like the P. G. Wodehouse stories about Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:45 AM on August 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

I liked Shorecliff quite a bit, but it may be too tragic if you want only mundane traumas.
posted by dame at 10:50 AM on August 23, 2015

A Little Life was made for you.
posted by meerkatty at 10:59 AM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think you'd enjoy 'The Cazalet Chronicles' by Elizabeth Jane Howard.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 11:02 AM on August 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think A Little Life definitely falls on the tragic side (it's one of my favorite recent books, but I don't think it's the sort of escapism the OP is looking for).
posted by leesh at 11:09 AM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

The movie version of the novel Ordinary People became a Best Picture winner.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:09 AM on August 23, 2015

Booker prizewinners are shoe-ins for this.
posted by runincircles at 11:14 AM on August 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

Previously, maybe? Both this and that are basically the opposite of what I read, so YMMV.
posted by wintersweet at 11:24 AM on August 23, 2015

Saturday, by Ian McEwan?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:47 AM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's been a while since I've read them, but I think Jonathan Franzen's family-center novels -- Freedom and The Corrections -- should fit the bill.
posted by charlemangy at 12:22 PM on August 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

I've enjoyed a couple Iain M. Banks novels in this vein; The Crow Road and The Steep Approach to Garbadale are both about wealthy young Scotsmen navigating intrigue within their moneyed old families.
posted by contraption at 12:23 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bonfire of the Vanities - Tom Wolfe

If you are willing to go back a hundred and something years, anything by Anthony Trollope. Also many of the staples of English lit such as Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, etc.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:27 PM on August 23, 2015

The first thing that come to mind is Richard Ford - The Bascombe Novels.
posted by neilb449 at 12:43 PM on August 23, 2015

It's been around a while, but I think you might enjoy And Ladies of the Club, by Helen Hooven Santmyer. I liked it in the same way that I liked A Suitable Boy, which you mention. And you can get a 1,200 page book for just a penny! Who could resist?
posted by Corvid at 1:02 PM on August 23, 2015

posted by charlemangy at 1:06 PM on August 23, 2015

Seconding The Corrections. Doesn't get any more first-world-problems than Franzen.
posted by deathpanels at 1:24 PM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Have you read J Courtney Sullivan's The Engagements? I'd also recommend The Vacationers by Emma Straub.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:38 PM on August 23, 2015

A little older, but John Updike should be right up your alley, especially the Rabbit series.
posted by mkultra at 1:53 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding Saturday by Ian McEwan. Also, White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Great genre, if it can be called that!
posted by HoteDoge at 1:54 PM on August 23, 2015

I have a strange adoration for Louis Auchincloss, who, according to Wikipedia, "is best known as a prolific novelist who parlayed his experiences into books exploring the experiences and psychology of American polite society and old money."

His stories are genteel as all get out, but I love them. Lots of social climbing and regrets.

Portrait in Brownstone and East Side Story both chronicle generations of a family.
posted by redsparkler at 1:58 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Morningside Heights, by Cheryl Mendelson. From the publisher's description:
Anne and Charles Braithwaite have spent their entire married life in a sedate old apartment building in Morningside Heights, a northern Manhattan neighborhood filled with intellectual, artistic souls like themselves, who thrive on the area’s abundant parks, cultural offferings, and reasonably priced real estate. The Braithwaites, musicians with several young children, are at the core of a circle of friends who make their living as writers, psychiatrists, and professors. But as the novel opens, their comfortable life is being threatened as a buoyant economy sends newly rich Wall Street types scurrying northward in search of good investments and more space. At the same time, the Braithwaites weather the difficult love lives of their friends, and all of the characters confront their fears that the institutions and social values that have until now provided them with meaning and stability—science, religion, the arts—are in increasing decline. Though the group clings to the rituals and promises of such institutions, the Braithwaites’ imminent departure sends shock waves through their community. As the family contemplates the impossible—a move to the suburbs—their predicament represents the end of a cultured kind of city life that middle-class families can no longer afford.
It is pretty much exactly what you are looking for. I read it when it first came out and remember it as a fast, enjoyable read.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:10 PM on August 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst is exactly what you describe.

Along the same lines:

The Children's Book by AS Byatt

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (more grounded than his other books but still amazing)

And much, MUCH of the Man Booker shortlists post-1996.
posted by kariebookish at 2:55 PM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

American Wife, Curtis Sittenfield
Happy All the Time, Laurie Colwin
The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
and... i read this when i was about 12 and it might not hold up... but i think this is what you described exactly.
September, Rosamunde Pilcher
posted by katieanne at 3:08 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Almost anything by Tom Wolfe, or Curtis Sittenfeld.
posted by decathecting at 3:09 PM on August 23, 2015

Netherland by Joseph O'Neil
Probably almost anything by Zadie Smith
God I'm tired of Franzen, but have you thought of Franzen?
posted by tapir-whorf at 4:12 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Beth Gutcheon, The New Girls and Five Fortunes
posted by Daily Alice at 6:03 PM on August 23, 2015

Jane Smiley. Some Luck is the first in a series about a Midwestern farm family. Horse Heaven, about racehorses and the people around them sometime in the 1990s, is a book I re-read every few years.
posted by yarntheory at 8:33 PM on August 23, 2015

I find that a lot of campus novels are like this. Straight Man by Richard Russo in particular comes to mind.
posted by thebots at 12:39 AM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jane. Motherfucking. Austen.

If the first line of Emma -- "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition..." -- seems perfect for your question.

She has a reputation for being dry, but it's undeserved - her novels are like beautiful, happy wedding cakes full of knives. She's extremely readable. Emma answers your question the best, maybe, but Pride and Prejudice is as famous as it ought to be, and Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, or Sense and Sensibility, and would all be excellent follow-ups. A precarious-ness of the protagonist's upper-class lifestyle is part of many of her novels, and provides some of the dramatic tension, but that's not the case for Emma, probably her funniest novel.
posted by Rinku at 1:11 AM on August 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you don't mind going back a few decades, some of Dorothy Whipple's novels - especially Someone at a Distance, They Were Sisters, and Greenbanks - are about emotional upheaval and turmoil among the comfortably-off English middle class (in an era when that meant having servants). She is very good at making the problems seem extremely high-stakes and painful even in the context of total financial security.
posted by Aravis76 at 1:13 AM on August 24, 2015

Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad.
posted by reclusive_thousandaire at 7:32 AM on August 24, 2015

I've actually never read any Austen, but she's on my list (and moving up for many reasons). Still, from what I knew, I was surprised no-one mentioned Austen before Rinku did.
posted by cardioid at 9:34 AM on August 24, 2015

Seconding Laurie Colwin.

Also, The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings-- or actually her short story collection, House of Thieves, is better in my opinion.
posted by BibiRose at 10:45 AM on August 24, 2015

I think you might really enjoy Crome Yellow if you're willing to read something 90 years outside your publication date preference. It's one of my favorite books and I recommend it all the time here on metafilter.

It's set at a manor house and all the characters are self-important, self-absorbed, overeducated rich folks. Sometimes I wonder if the Downton Abbey writers are fans.

Things you might like:
-The main character stewing because the woman he likes likes another guy more, even though he's so clearly better than the other guy.
-Everyone in the house putting together a fair for the people in the village because it's the right thing to do to give them a bit of fun in their mundane lives.
-The history of the family house and all the weird quirks of the individuals spending the summer there.
posted by phunniemee at 3:21 PM on August 24, 2015

This is secretly my fave too! I wanted to hate AM Homes's May We Be Forgiven, but actually I loved it. And Jhumpa Lahiri's work is so good in this vein as well, slightly lessening the unbearable whiteness of the genre. Also I did a cmd+f and didn't see Anne Tyler's name in here; that's basically her whole thing, so: Anne Tyler. Anne Tyler. Anne Tyler! Looking forward to digging into more of the recs here.
posted by kickingthecrap at 5:48 PM on August 24, 2015

I think Kevin Kwan's "Crazy Rich Asians" and (to a slightly lesser extent) the sequel "China Rich Girlfriend" fit in here. (I just read those and am now reading "Everybody Rise.")

"The Hundred Year-Old House" by Rebecca Makkai might work too.

Another rec for J. Courtney Sullivan; I've read "Commencement," "The Engagements," and "Maine."

I also recently read "Elizabeth the First Wife" by Loan Dolan based on a rec I read here but can no longer find. Very light and pleasant.
posted by purpleclover at 9:34 AM on August 26, 2015

Nancy Clark's The Hills at Home and sequels.
posted by clew at 11:33 AM on November 7, 2015

« Older Create a bootable USB repair stick?   |   Ark-La-Tex Travel Advice Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.