The 7 Best Novels About WASPs

shelved under Americana, Fiction, and Beach Reads

The dyed-in-the-wool Wasp tends not to write much of anything: both Isabella Stewart Gardner and J.P. Morgan displayed the maxim "Think much, speak little, write less" in their homes. And certainly that Wasp wouldn't write a revealing book. James Gould Cozzens, a Wasp novelist of a half-century ago, remarked that his father didn't "think writing was man's work. I still think he was right, if the truth were told. If I could have been a really efficient athlete, I never would have written another line." So the best books about Wasps are written by those ambivalent about the legacy, or striving to be accepted within its cozy confines, or fed up with the whole thing.


The Late George Apley

by John P. Marquand

The book is framed as an extended elegy after Apley, a Boston Brahmin, dies in his mid-sixties. Its devastating suggestion is that he really dies — for all intents and purposes — just after college, when his parents thwart his dreams of being a writer and coax him into the family's way of life: “He began to be a useful committee member upon an important charity, a clubman of the very best sort, a sportsman, a student of business and finance, in short a man who was rapidly preparing to undertake family responsibilities.” R.I.P.


The Stories of John Cheever

by John Cheever

Okay, it's not a novel — but Cheever's writing always takes my breath away. Just when you think you're on fairly solid ground — namely, Westchester County — along comes a wondrous radio or an elephant marching over the hills. A magical realist who's part Marquez and part Walter Mitty.

This book also appears on Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction



by Susan Minot

From the opening page, when "Mum knuckles the buttons of Chicky's snowsuit till he's knot-tight," you know you're in for a Wasp treat — meaning boozing, thwarted communication, and inconsolable loss.


The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald was a wistful snob, ever anxious about his place in the firmament: as a youth, finding his father listed in the St. Paul Social Register as a “grocer,” he penciled in the word “wholesale” before it. And in this book he transmutes that anxiety into Jay Gatsby's poignantly ardent social climbing. The self-made Gatsby longs, tragically, for the approval of those who — as Ann Richards once said of George H.W. Bush — were born on third base and thought they hit a triple.


Revolutionary Road

by Richard Yates

About the bleakest book you'll ever read, yet its bleakness is vivid and hypnotic. Wasps playacting and posing in the mirror to see how they stack up against their own dreams (not well). The first great novel about misery in the suburbs, and a template for the TV show "Mad Men."


The Age of Innocence

by Edith Wharton, introduction by Louis Auchincloss

No sex please, we're Wasps. Newland and Ellen's is the longest unconsummated romance ever — a devastating portrait of social pressures crushing true feelings.

This book also appears on 9 Wicked Beach Reads about Friend-Fatales