Critic: lack of good suburban novels

Since World War II, there have been a number of novels that have dissected suburban life but one critic says the genre has suffered in recent years:

Suburban novels, much like many American suburbs themselves, have fallen on hard times.

Yes, there are some terrific books about the ‘burbs, only few lately that feel like they’re trafficking in the great realist tradition of John Updike, John Cheever and Richard Yates, whose novels and stories in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s defined the quiet despair of the men of Metro-North.

Today, Tom Perrotta’s satires of strollerland feel overly broad. Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” brilliantly portrays the dark side of McMansion marriage, but it’s so brutal you want to avert your eyes.

Ted Thompson’s terrific debut novel, “The Land of Steady Habits,” feels like a natural extension of Yates’ classic “Revolutionary Road” or Updike’s Rabbit series. Call this elegant, witty and economical novel “Rabbit, Meltdown.”…

It’s not a stretch to say that this is the first great novel about post-crash American disillusionment, the flip side of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Inside the ruined heart and soul of Anders Hill is a warning: even the life you think falls short of your dreams must not be taken for granted.

Perhaps the suburban decline novel needs some updating. Many of these stories, whether in novels, in films, or on TV, have a similar narrative: the characters look like they have the good life in the American suburbs with a newer house, family, and other consumers (cars, television, etc.) but the main characters are repressed in some way so they lash out and the suburban facade falls aside. There is some truth to such stories: the American Dream is heavily based on particular notions of success that are more in the reach of some (privileged groups) than others. At the same time, there are a variety of suburbs from wealthy and exclusive towns to more working-class communities and the mythology of the American suburban Dream continues to survive.

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