So, I just finished Emperor’s Children, to which I have to say: Wow. Most writers settle for rich characters or worthwhile plot. Claire Messud goes for both and adds real dialog. She even fabricates the writing style of her characters. And unlike Jonathan Franzen in The Corrections, Messud maintains sympathy for her flawed characters, which makes reading about them worthwhile.
Every book needs a setting, but the best ones transcend the specifics to reveal larger truths about human nature. Even though the books of Philip Roth, Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz are about a particular culture, you need not be a minority to enjoy them. I can’t say the same about Emperor’s Children. It’s about the New York intellectual scene and for the people in it.
But I’m not even sure if this qualifies as a problem. Most modern fiction readers are Upper West Side types. So does it matter if only they could enjoy Emperor’s Children?