Answered Prayers by Truman Capote (1987). Unfinished and perhaps unfinishable at the time of Capote’s death in 1984, this roman à clef was his savage chomp at the hands that fed him—the manicured, diamond-freighted hands of Upper East Side socialites and assorted New York celebrities. Bitchiness, bile, and sexual braggadocio vie in this gossipy, literary vivisection of high society.
Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare (1606). One of Shakespeare’s late Roman plays, Antony and Cleopatra has a sense of fading grandeur about it, as the great warrior Antony succumbs to the exotic luxuries of Egypt and the heady sexual powers of her queen Cleopatra, thus neglecting his duties to Rome.
Anywhere but Here by Mona Simpson (1986). Carolyn Leavitt writes: “A manipulative mother intent on making her daughter a star, journeys with her from Wisconsin to California. Along the way, she tries on different men for husband potential and struggles not to let the fantasy become too threadbare when some broad daylight is splashed upon it.
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard (1993). This play takes us back and forth between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ranging over the nature of truth and time, the difference between the Classical and the Romantic temperament, and the disruptive influence of sex on our orbits in life.
Ask the Dust by John Fante (1939). This coming-of-age tale features Fante’s alter ego, Arturo Bandini: a poor, innocent, aspiring writer from Colorado, stretching out his limbo in 1930s Los Angeles. Bandini prowls the city’s dusty alleys for experience he can turn into prose, eats oranges in his hotel room, and dreams of success.
At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen (1965). Two Americans try to expand white culture in the jungles of Peru: a Christian missionary hopes to “civilize” the local tribes, and a mercenary plans to remove the locals through terror.
Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001). When Briony Tallis, a precocious adolescent on an English estate, writes a play to mark her brother’s homecoming in 1935, she sets in motion a real-life tragedy that marks the end of her innocence.
Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald (2001). During decades of travels through Europe, a nameless architectural historian accidentally keeps meeting Austerlitz, a neurasthenic architect who is incrementally confronting his buried connection to the Holocaust.