Weingarten: In fiction, as in life, NYC is a thrill a minute
Ever fantasize about bumping off your boss or dispensing with your noisy neighbor? Of course you have. But unlike the seedy characters populating gritty fiction set in and around New York City, you've resisted your nefarious urges (I hope). With ThrillerFest, an annual event celebrating thriller books kicking off today at the Grand Hyatt hotel, however, it might just be time to dust off your killer instinct.
In the '80s and '90s, Manhattan was as vibrant a presence in popular fiction as its infamous main characters. Could Tom Wolfe's "The Bonfire of the Vanities," the ubiquitous tale of Reagan-era excess, have worked at all set in L.A.? Would the unnamed narrator of Jay McInerney's "Bright Lights, Big City" have been as driven to despair had he relocated from Oklahoma to Poughkeepsie? Patrick Bateman, in Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho," used his privileged Manhattan lifestyle as a cover for his heinous crimes. It probably wouldn't have worked as well in the Catskills.
The use of Manhattan in literature has a long and colorful pedigree. Edith Wharton's keen social observations gave way to those of J.D. Salinger. Truman Capote and Sylvia Plath both chronicled the way the city could either breathe life into or destroy vulnerable characters.
For a while, post-9/11 books set in Manhattan seemed grittier, and darker, full of menace. Terrorist plots or threats of biological warfare loomed large in real life, and fiction followed suit. ThrillerFest executive director Kimberley Howe says that because of the incredibly diverse moods and neighborhoods in our city, "There isn't a book that couldn't be set in New York." Well, maybe not Anne Rice's famous New Orleans vampire epics. But there's enough disparity in income, vibrancy of cultures and rippling diversity running through the five boroughs to make the city the perfect backdrop for any story.
Jon Land, bestselling author of the Caitlin Strong series, puts it this way: "If America remains the melting pot, then NYC is the spoon that stirs it. The city offers the perfect setting even the most diabolical thriller writer can conceive."
They say that NYC provides a thrill a minute. Maybe it's time for you to discover, write or rewrite your own version.
Rachel Weingarten is the author of the upcoming "Real Brooklyn Girl" mystery series.