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3 Great Novels Set in NYC During the 2008 Financial Crisis

Claire Handscombe

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The 2020 Covid crisis has shaken our world economically like nothing else seen in recent years - except, perhaps, the 2008 Financial Crisis. And arguably, nowhere felt the impact of the burst housing bubble in a more concentrated way than New York City. Time Magazine reports that in February 2008, there were 170,000 New Yorkers who were not in work, but just over 18 months later, that figure had leapt to 413,000. Of those job losses, around 40,000 were on Wall Street. All of this had a huge impact on the landscape and culture of New York City, and this is reflected in novels set around the time. Here are three excellent examples of those novels.

Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney

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The author of the iconic 1980s New York novel Bright Light, Big City, called "Our modern-day Fitzgerald” by Vanity Fair, looked back on the dizzying change of 2008 -- with not only the financial crisis, but the election of Obama, too, through the prism of a struggling marriage. Corrine and Russell Calloway are living their New York City dream -- he's an independent publisher, and she devotes herself to feeding the poor. But their lifestyle doesn't come cheap, and into the breach comes an audacious opportunity for Russell that could spell disaster, while Corinne bumps into an old flame, threatening everything they've built together.Here's what Booklist said about this novel: “In this powerful portrait of a marriage and a city in the shadow of the looming subprime mortgage crisis, McInerney observes the passage of life’s seasons with aching and indelible clarity.”

Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue

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Behold the Dreamers is a novel which explores the lives of the ordinary people caught in the crosshairs of wealthy people's ill-advised and even callous decisions as well as sytemic injusice. Jende and Neni are immigrants from Cameroon whose lives are dramatically improved when Jende gets a job chauffering a Lehman Brothers senior executive. Their American dream is finally taking off. But when the financial edifice begins to tumble, so do Jende and Neni's newfound security, and they have a difficult decision to make. Chosen by Oprah for her book club in its year of publication, Behold the Dreamers was critically acclaimed, winning the PEN/Faulkner Award and named as one of the best books of 2016 by NPR, The New York Times Book Review, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Kirkus Reviews, among others. The Washington Post called it "a debut novel by a young woman from Cameroon that illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse . . . Mbue is a bright and captivating storyteller."

The Futures, by Anna Pitoniak

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On the surface, the novel has a lot in common with Bright, Precious Days: it, too, explores the ways that financial crisis can put pressure on an already fragile marriage. And it, too, shows the risk that a man takes to pursue financial gain, and a woman thrown into emotional turmoil when he reconnects with someone from her past. But the author's perspective is that of a young woman's, and the couple she focuses on are not well established, but instead just beginning their lives, their marriage fragile and fledgling. It's an excellent read, and makes for a compelling comparison to Jay McInerney's take.Town and Country called The Futures "the next great New York novel", while Marie Claire said it was "a story that feels familiar yet wholly original, like every heartbreak ever."

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC
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