Forget summer in the city. This year, the heat is on in the suburbs. Whether in music — Arcade Fire’s third album is an extended rock homage to the burbs — or on television — Mad Men is back for its fourth season and still toggling back and forth from the leafy mid-century hamlets of upstate New York to the cutthroat world of Madison Avenue — or in books — Jonathan Franzen’s breathlessly awaited follow up to The Corrections, Freedom, centers on life and its discontents in suburban St. Paul — the vast sprawl is having its moment in the cultural spotlight.
In anticipation of Franzen’s book (due in stores on August 31), we found ourselves thinking about the literary tradition of the suburban novel — the fictive portraits of damaged domesticity, day drinking, and disillusion. As an American invention, novels of suburban ennui are only as old as their subject, but we’ve polled the last half-century (and beyond) to bring you these ten essential novels of suburbia and its displeasures.
Have we missed your favorite? Tell us in the comments section.
1. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
The mother of all suburban novels, this harrowing tale of April and Frank Wheeler is haunted by the specter of lives unlived and paths not taken. Though the book will be turning 50 next year, its insights into boredom, escapism, and class are as relevant today as ever. The 2008 film was faithful to the book, but lacked the power and precision of Yates’s perfect prose. Read it rather than rent it.