4x4th Estate: Suburban Wars

4 books that reside on the edges, recommended for you by us at 4th Estate.

‘You said the past won’t rest
Until we jump the fence and leave it behind’

Arcade Fire, Suburban War

 The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides 

Could this be the finest meditation on suburbia ever written? The successive suicides of five beautiful sisters are told retrospectively by a chorus of local boys, who interpret their lives from snatchings of public encounters and discarded artefacts. Sentences crackle with an aching nostalgia, and Eugenides expertly conjures the suburb as a site of both stagnancy and inescapable transition.

 Music for Torching by A.M. Homes

‘Holmes doesn’t so much critique suburban American life as shoot it, stab it, chuck it in the boot of her car and drive it into a lake’. The Times

Elaine and Paul are a married couple who are stifled by the rhythms of suburban family life. An accidentally-on-purpose attempt to burn down their house sparks a series of bizarre incidents in this dark and claustrophobic middle-finger salute to the American dream.

 The Unlimited Dream Company by J.G. Ballard 

The eerily prescient J.G. Ballard displayed a lifelong fascination with the suburbs (check out 2003’s Millennium People and 2006’s Kingdom Come). This one is an earlier, more experimental work, and one of Ballard’s masterpieces. A pilot crashes in Shepperton and becomes a totemic figure for the South London suburbanites – a repository for their dreams and vessel of their desires. But is he a force of liberation, or a chimera bent on destruction?

 Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Perfectly capturing the post-World War II ‘lust for conformity’, Revolutionary Road is a painful tale of lost hope in stuffy Connecticut. While Frank and April Wheeler see themselves as too smart for middlebrow, Middle-America, breaking free of convention is more difficult than they expected. Their tragic escape attempt ends as no more than a morsel of gossip for their chattering neighbours.

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