Life in the ‘Burbs

Barthelme, Frederick.  Natural Selection. Counterpoint, 2001. This novel is about "the mess we make of our lives every day.'' The suburban protagonist Peter Wexler separates from his second wife and their son for some soul-searching.

Beattie, Ann.  Falling in Place. Random House, 1990.  A novel that traces the orbits of the members of one family from a hidden love triangle to the ten-year-old son whose problem may pull everyone down.

Cheever, John.  Bullet Park. Knopf, 1969. A lyrical and mordantly funny hymn to the American suburb--and to all the dubious normalcy it represents.

Coll, Susan.  Rockville Pike:  A Suburban Comedy of Manners. Simon and Schuster, 2008. Jane Kramer never imagined a life selling discount furniture and commuting between grocery stores and soccer fields via minivan but when her father-in-law has a heart attack, she and her husband, Leon, trade in their glamorous New York life for a stint running the family business on Rockville Pike, a tributary of the suburban sprawl line extending outward from Washington, D.C. Jane finds herself learning that, despite life's reversals, it is possible to tap into talents and desires she didn't realize she still had.

Cook, Claire.  The Wildwater Walking Club. Voice, c2009.  Noreen, Tess, and Rosie bond together to form the Wildwater Walking Club--sharing their secrets and letting life take them in some new and surprising directions--in this tale of three funny, supportive and endearing women and their suburban antics.

Ford, Richard.  The Lay of the Land.  Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Frank Bascombe's moods and mindsets shift like the shores of his native New Jersey, where at 55 he now sells real estate.  His trade as a realtor on the Jersey Shore is thriving but as a Presidential election hangs in the balance, and a post-nuclear family Thanksgiving looms before him along with crises both marital and medical, Frank discovers that his life is fraught with unforeseen perils.

Franzen, Jonathan.  Freedom. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.  In this epic of contemporary love and marriage, Franzen comically and tragically captures the wages of suburban sprawl and the heavy weight of empire, charting the lives of the novel's characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world.

Friedman, Bruce Jay.  Stern. Grove Press, 2001, [c1962]. This novel tells the story of a young Jewish man who relocates his family from the city to the suburbs, where they are besieged by voracious caterpillars and a bigotry that ranges from the genteel snub to outright confrontation.

Gates, David.  Preston Falls. Vintage Books, 1999, c1998. In this comic novel, Gates explores the life of a suburban man in a mid-life crisis.

Guest, Judith.  Ordinary People. Penguin Books, 1982.  The Jarrets are a typical suburban family.  They had two sons, Conrad and Buck, but now they have one.  Judith Guest takes the reader into the Jarrets' lives to share their misunderstandings, pain, and ultimate healing.

Lee, Chang-rae.  Aloft.  Riverhead Books, 2004. Since the day his wife died, Jerry has turned avoiding conflict into an art form--the perfect expression being his solitary flights above Long Island from which he can look down on a world that appears serene and unscathed.  A culmination of family crises finally draws Jerry away from his emotionally distant course.

Oates, Joyce Carol.  Expensive People.  Modern Library, 2006. In this novel set in the late 1960s, Oates takes a suspenseful look at the roiling secrets of America’s affluent suburbs.  Fascinated but alienated from his attractive, self-absorbed parents and the privileged world they inhabit, eleven-year-old Richard Everett incisively analyzes his own mismanaged childhood, his pretentious private schooling, his “successful-executive” father, and his elusive mother.  In an act of desperation, Richard strikes out in a way that presages the violence of ever-younger Americans in the turbulent decades to come.  

Perrotta, Tom. Little Children.  St. Martin's Griffin, 2005. Perrotta (The Leftovers, The Abstinence Teacher) "views his characters with a funny, acute and sympathetic eye, using the well-observed antics of preschoolers as a telling backdrop to their parents' botched transitions into adulthood. Once again, he proves himself an expert at exploring the roiling psychological depths beneath the placid surface of suburbia." (Publisher’s Weekly)

Sharpe, Matthew.  You Were Wrong. Bloomsbury, 2010. It is 2008 in the suburban town of Seacrest, Long Island.  One afternoon, math teacher Karl Floor returns to his house after work to discover a stranger in the upstairs hallway. She is Sylvia Vetch, and claims to be robbing him. She also asks for his protection and draws him into troubles she won't elucidate.

Terrell, Whitney.  The King of Kings County. Viking, 2005. In 1956, Alton Acheson begins building a suburban empire amid the cornfields of Kings County. As Alton bluffs his way into prosperity, his son, Jack, becomes a reluctant accomplice to his grand ambitions and is forced into a clear-eyed confrontation with his father's legacy.


Updike, John. The "Rabbit" saga:.

  • Rabbit, Run.  Knopf, 1960.  This novel is about Harry Angstrom ("Rabbit"), a salesman who, on an impulse, leaves home, his alcoholic wife, Janice, and his child, Nelson, to find freedom. After several escapades and a liaison with an ex-prostitute, he returns to his wife and child and attempts to settle down again.  At the end, still dissatisfied and guilt-ridden because of the responsibility he feels for the death of his second child, he begins running again.
  • Rabbit Redux. Knopf, 1971.  "Rabbit" finds his life shattered by the infidelity of his wife, Janice.
  • Rabbit is Rich. Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1981.) Updike continues to probe the yearning, frustration and pain of suburban America in this third encounter with the Angstroms. Ten years after the events of Rabbit Redux, "Rabbit" has come to enjoy considerable prosperity as the chief sales representative of Springer Motors and feels in good shape, ready to enjoy life at last--until his wayward son, Nelson, returns from the West, and the image of an old love pays a visit to the lot.
  • Rabbit at Rest. Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1990. "Rabbit" now has a heart condition.  His son, Nelson, is behaving erratically and his wife, Janice, decides in midlife to return to the world of work.  As, through the winter, spring and summer of 1989, Reagan's America yields to that of George Bush, "Rabbit" explores the terrain of late middle age.

Wilson, Sloan. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Simon and Schuster, 1955.  Here is the story of Tom and Betsy Rath, a young couple with three healthy children, a nice home, and a steady income.  Tom finds himself caught up in the corporate rat race---what he encounters there propels him on a voyage of self-discovery that will turn his world inside out.

Yates, Richard. Revolutionary Road. Vintage Books, 2008, c1961. The devastating effects of work, adultery, rebellion, and self-deception slowly destroy the once successful marriage of Frank and April Wheeler, a suburban American couple.


Life in the ‘Burbs
Belmont Public Library  336 Concord Ave. Belmont, MA 02478   
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