The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (Dover, $5).
An insider's unsparing portrait of late-19th-century New York high society, The House of Mirth follows the declining fortunes of husband-hunting Lily Bart, one of the great characters of American literature. Wharton is an amusingly ruthless observer of the manners and mores of the wealthy.
This black comedy set in Depression-era Manhattan follows the career of a cynical advice columnist who struggles to find a moral compass while dispensing trite advice, under the name Miss Lonelyhearts, to desperate city dwellers. It's film noir with a laugh track.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (Vintage, $16).
Ellis' grisly send-up of consumer culture, for all its dead-on 1980s specificity, manages to maintain its powerful satiric punch. Patrick Bateman is a cipher who continues to command our horrified attention.
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (Vintage, $16).
Set in Brooklyn in the '70s and '80s, when gentrification existed in a hard-to-imagine future, this pop culture–soaked coming-of-age novel grapples with issues of race and class and family as it flirts with comic book–inspired magic realism. It even has a magic ring.
City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Vintage, $17).
This is a sprawling novel as crowded and unruly as the city itself, set in the anarchic days of 1976 when the Bronx was burning, the city was lurching toward bankruptcy, and the lights suddenly went out. Hallberg is as good at portraying the wealthy Hamilton-Sweeney clan as he is the downtown art world and the nascent punk scene of the Lower East Side.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (Knopf, $25).
Danler's debut novel reinvents the story of a small-town girl coming to the city to discover herself. Days after her arrival in Manhattan, 22-year-old Tess lands a job at a Union Square Café–like restaurant. As she gradually educates her palate and experiments with drugs, white truffles, and Gevrey-Chambertin, Sweetbitter becomes a novel about the pleasures of the senses and the joys of discovering, while young, the greatest city in the world.
— Jay McInerney is the best-selling author behind Bright Lights, Big City. His new novel, Bright, Precious Days, completes a trilogy about the Calloways, a high-flying Manhattan couple introduced in 1992's Brightness Falls.