People who tell stories about people who are rich are sly. While they are figuring out how a fantasy works, they also want to go to the party. Characters often stand out because they have a lot of money and a lot of property, but also because they don’t speak or tell lies to keep that money and property.
In the US, for example, the word “slavery” doesn’t appear anywhere in the constitution. Fictions show the strongholds of property and power that protect boundaries of class, color, and bloodline, and show how those boundaries are kept in place.
Often, these are stories about families and great homes that have been passed down through the generations. A party is always a good idea. Parties where someone who wasn’t invited or came by accident can come in.
People say this in my new book, The Guest Book, which is about three generations of a “old money” family that has run out of money. “Everything happens at a party,” one person says. People who lived on an island off the coast of Maine have lost their money, but not their place or the sense that it is theirs. It says, “We repeat what we don’t know.” What this family “doesn’t know” is that racism is the bed beneath their dreams.
The following stories taught me how to think up and shape my own. People love, betray each other and remember their dreams in these big, juicy stories. They are full of the stuff and sorrow of dreams.
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
As of right now, not much brings the United States together. Most people in the United States have read The Great Gatsby, though. Why? When James Gatz comes from nowhere, from no place, he thinks he can write his own future and, with enough money, change his past. The sight of his beautiful, doomed vision has been seen as a symbol of the American Dream and its impossibility. Gatsby’s parties sprang out into the summer nights, ignoring the darkness, the rules of class, or race, or the truth of the past.
Run River by Joan Didion
Didion’s first novel starts with the sound of a gunshot, which a woman calmly fastens a watch to her wrist in her bedroom. It then takes us back through her memory and the history of her family, who were some of the first people to settle in California. Novelist Joan Didion is known for her close attention to class and power, but this book also has a plot that moves quickly and never lets you forget that it must return to the moment when the first picture was taken.
Howards End by EM Forster
The Schlegel sisters, members of the intelligentsia who are well-off and well-educated, are at the heart of a novel that pits their situation and point of view against that of the “new money” family that owns the old family house of the title, even though none of them want to live there. At the start of the story, there is a secret about inheritance that is right in front of you.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence
In both of these stories, women come to see the gilded bars around their social class for the first time. It’s set in a summer colony off the coast of New Orleans, where the heat and languor and beauty of her cage go hand in hand with her sexual awakening. She was released into a kind of freedom when the gamekeeper held her. The Chatterley estate’s natural beauty, with its over-the-top splendor, shows how Lady Chatterley was freed in his arms.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
He made fun of the Gilded Age in his 1920 novel. The 400 families of Old Manhattan who danced in Caroline Astor’s ballroom and “dreaded scandal more than disease” made up the social, political and economic power of the United States at the time. Wharton shows how a class can figure out and then split up true love in a scathing novel about duty and passion.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane is hired as a governess at the wealthy House of Rochester. When she gets there, she finds that the house has a wandering secret, a secret that wants to be told, and a woman, dark and angry, who is locked away. I like this story about a girl who finds her voice in the face of a world that doesn’t believe in her.
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
By telling the story of the beautiful and tragic Caddy Compson in three separate monologues by her three brothers: the mentally ill Benjamin, the suicidal Quentin, and the savage Jason. The book tells the story of a woman who wants to get away from her family, the town where they live, and the poison in the post-bellum South. The voices in the book often blend together, so you can’t always tell who is speaking. People who were slaves for a long time tell parts of the story. You get the sense that a house is always blind even though you’re talking at the same time. This is one of my favorite books.
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
One of the great things about this huge book is how it moves slowly and majestically through a lot of different people, their secrets, their desires, and their dreams. In any family, there are going to be misunderstandings and false starts. This is about Soames Forsyte (Galsworthy’s “Man of Property”), who is the center of this story. It tells the story of a country through the eyes of one family, as well as a love story and the story of a house. It starts in 1896 and ends in the 1920s.
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
Tells the tragic story of Thomasina Coverly, who was born in 1809 and died in the present day. The play moves back and forth between two generations of her family, one in 1809 and the other now. Here, the heartbreak of history is shown. When the past doesn’t know what’s coming, and the present doesn’t know what’s gone, it’s shown. The play, which is still interesting to read, moves back and forth between the past and the present while staying in the same place – the living room of the family’s estate. This shows how history is layered.
The Swimmer by John Cheever
This list must start with The Great Gatsby, and it must end with John Cheever’s short story from 1964, which was a huge hit. At one of his friends’ pools, Neddy Merrill has one hand on a glass of gin and the other in the water. He decides to swim eight miles home, through the yards of his friends and neighbors. What starts out as a fun prank for one man grows into an allegory of the traps and cages of the rich, and of the desperate, physical desire to swim out of one’s own body. It’s as beautiful as the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock that signaled the end of Gatsby’s dream.