Before we get into our actual books for the week, I wanted to do a last-minute plug for Dorothy Baker’s Cassandra at the Wedding, which we’ll be discussing with Emily Gould on Thursday (discount code below). I’m counting down the minutes until my actual conversation with Emily, because I read it in two sittings and it’s MAYBE ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS I’VE EVER READ, and I have a lot to say about it, and I think…okay, I’ve never loved Joan Didion’s fiction, and I think that Cassandra at the Wedding is the novel I’ve always hoped Joan Didion would write, based on the quality of her non-fiction, if that makes any sense? It’s clear and brilliant and the main narrator is unpleasant and it’s wildly accessible and delicious and I want all of you to read it. I promise you will enjoy it and, if you are a writer, be filled with self-loathing and envy by it. How lucky for you, writers.
The Innocents! Much, much better than it had any right to be. One is always so pessimistic about novels based on other novels, and for good reason. Edith Wharton is dead, go write your own book and make up a new story. This, again, surprised me by being a good book in its own right. As I mentioned briefly last time, it’s The Age of Innocence, but set in modern-day Jewish North London, and Segal manages to create a perfect little insular world in which the themes of near-infidelity and shame and mistrust and belonging and shunning within a closed community are not dated, but absolutely vital and gripping. It’s worth your time.
And then I read Choire Sicha’s novel, which was really good. I think the first half is AMAZING and the second half is good, so it shakes out to really good. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the second half, it’s just that the best part of Very Recent History is this incredible portrait of NYC in the relevant year, and this perfect anthropological tone (“Cigarettes were made up of tobacco, a nightshade…”), and capitalism-unpicking, and then once that groundwork is laid, the characters begin to seem more interchangeable and less compelling than the horrible city he’s constructed or unveiled around them.
Okay, what are you reading? Besides Cassandra at the Wedding?
*Readers of The Toast can take 20% off purchases from Emily Books — subscriptions or individual books — by entering the code CASSIETOAST at checkout until 9/19
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.