New York City in the 1970s: Background information when reading The Interestings

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The Interestings

by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2013, 480 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2014, 544 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
New York City in the 1970s

Print Review

Though The Interestings spans several decades, most of the novel takes place in and around New York City in the 1970s. This decade was a low point for the city, which had been in a gradual economic decline during the 1960s with rolling blackouts, subway strikes, sanitation strikes, and riots (most notably the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots, which marked the beginning of the gay rights movement).

New York City subway car in the 1970s By the early 1970s, New York City had become infamous for crime, filth, and poverty. The NYPD was rife with corruption, and the subway was full of garbage and graffiti. Central Park was a hotbed for rapes and muggings, and far from the quiet idyllic place it is today. The economic stagnation that plagued the rest of the country in the mid-1970s was particularly strong in the city, which narrowly avoided bankruptcy thanks to a federal loan. Record numbers of city dwellers left the five boroughs, seeking relief in the suburbs and beyond. In the summer of 1977, electricity blackouts led to high amounts of arson and looting.

The one high point of the decade was the opening of the World Trade Center in 1972. The Twin Towers replaced the Empire State Building as the world's tallest tower. Though New Yorkers initially disliked the Twin Towers, arguing that they lacked the Art Deco elegance of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, they soon grew to love and later, mourn them as they came down on 9/11.

New York City's problem with crime lagged on into the 1980s, which saw an increase in drug abuse and gang violence. Homelessness was also a consistent problem throughout Edward Koch's mayoral term (1978-1990). Triggered by a boom on Wall Street in the 1980s, the city began to clean itself up. Improved economic opportunities plus changes in police strategies led to safer, gentrifying streets and a growing population of American transplants and immigrants.

Picture from All That is Interesting

This article was originally published in April 2013, and has been updated for the March 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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