Many novelists write about the experience of growing up, but it takes a writer with insider knowledge to capture the experience of growing up in New York City. Julia Pierpont, the author of Among the Ten Thousand Things (Random House, July), not only grew up in the city; with an undergraduate degree from Barnard College and an M.F.A. from NYU, she’s never managed to leave. “I got really close to getting my driver’s license once,” she says. “It didn’t happen.”
Among the Ten Thousand Things revolves around the four members of an eccentric New York clan: Jack Shanley, a brilliant but adulterous conceptual artist; his wife, Deb, a former ballet dancer; and their children Simon, 15, and Kay, 11.
Pierpont, whose father is an architect, says it was a “fun challenge to write about the art” and ballet worlds (“I read a lot of memoirs by ballerinas”). She also forayed into the wilds of the online fan fiction community; Kay, the youngest character, deals with her tumultuous family life in part by writing Seinfeld fan fiction. “I had fun writing [those sections],” Pierpont says. “I’ve seen a lot of Seinfeld.”
Agent Elyse Cheney, who was put in touch with Pierpont by Jonathan Safran Foer, one of Pierpont’s teachers at NYU, says she was struck by the novel’s “exacting and unusual” prose. “It tripped you up sometimes. The sentences didn’t go where you expected them to.”
Random House acquired the novel in the fall of 2012. Noah Eaker, Pierpont’s editor, compares it to the work of Jonathan Franzen, saying Pierpont “knows how to get your attention. But she knows how to finish the novel, too. It has a really satisfying ending.”
Pierpont, at 28, is still getting used to being a published novelist. She recently received her first copy of the book. “You know when you can get your face put on a fake magazine cover? It felt like I’d gotten one of those in the mail,” she says.