Inventing a New Genre: “Money & Love through an Alcoholic Haze”
September 2018

I just finished Caitlin Macy’s­ new book, The Fundamentals of Play, and felt moved to invent a new genre of novels that I, for one, really love:  I call it “Money & Love through an Alcoholic Haze” (MLAH, for short).

The preeminent example of this genre is, of course, The Great Gatsby. Widely considered a literary classic and a contender for the “Great American novel,” this novel captures the moral vacuity of the American society obsessed with wealth and status, capturing what the Washington Post calls “the aspirational (if borderline delusional) nature of the American psych”—all told in a seemingly alcoholic, blurry, melancholy, and elegiac tone.

The more recent example is Caitlin Macy’s witty and sophisticated tragicomedy of errors, The Fundamentals of Play, about a group of prep school friends—with the affable and sincere George as the Nick Carroway narrator; the patrician and fun-loving Kate Goodenow as Daisy; and the socially inept entrepreneur Harry Lombardi as the ambitious Gatsby. The plot and characters cover the “Love and Money” part of my definition, but the style and tone cover the “Alcoholic Mist.” The tone is elegiac, world-weary, elegant, and ironic.  Events seem to occur in a misty haze.  At the same time, the characters seem to be drinking continually.

Rules of Civility centers on a likeable and ambitious young woman who catapults into a world of Audubon prints and silver Art Deco martini shakers, after a chance encounter in a late 1930’s jazz club.  The rich and evasive banker Tinker Gray plays the part of Jay Gatsby.  Like Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, and Louis Auchincloss, author Amor Towles (an Ivy League investment banker himself) clearly knows the privileged world he’s writing about. (Towles went on to write the popular and playful A Gentleman in Moscow.)

Unlike Macy’s and Towles’ emphasis on the “Money & Love” side of the MLAH genre, Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler, gives us a strong dose of “Alcoholic Mist”—what could be called, perhaps, almost an alcoholic fog.  “A sexy, sweaty book of sensory overload” (again in the words of the Washington Post), the book is a coming-of-age story about a young woman who moves to New York and works in a fancy restaurant. The book really captures the insanity of that life, both at work and after work—as she discovers champagne and cocaine, love and lust, dive bars and fine dining rooms.

A final example is Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close, which perfectly captures the alcoholic, insecure life of girls in their 20’s, living in New York.  Told as intersecting stories, three post-college young women live their hung-over and lovelorn lives, suffering through evil bosses, cancelled engagements, and an endless round of weddings and bridal showers.

Now that you know the genre exists, let me know if you can think of any other similar novels?  I’ll list them in next month’s posting.

Or, if you’re looking for novels about other topics, visit my website Delightful Reads.