A Best in Fiction Book for 2023
“Vintage Contemporaries is about being young and becoming less young, exploring friendship (sometimes magical, sometimes messy), parenthood (ditto), and how to reconcile youthful ambition and ideals with real life. It’s a warm and big-hearted coming of age story that made me wistful for my own twenties, set in a vividly rendered and long-vanished New York City.”—Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave the World Behind
Slate editor Dan Kois makes his fiction debut with this stunning coming-of-age novel set in New York City, about the joys of unexpected life-altering friendships, the power of finding ourselves in the moment, and the importance of forgiving ourselves when we inevitably mess everything up.
It’s 1991. Em moved to New York City for excitement and possibility, but the big city isn’t quite what she thought it would be. Working as a literary agent’s assistant, she’s down to her last nineteen dollars but has made two close friends: Emily, a firebrand theater director living in a Lower East Side squat, and Lucy, a middle-aged novelist and single mom. Em’s life revolves around these two wildly different women and their vividly disparate yet equally assured views of art and the world. But who is Em, and what does she want to become?
It's 2004. Em is now Emily, a successful book editor, happily married and barely coping with the challenges of a new baby. And suddenly Lucy and Emily return to her life: Her old friend Lucy's posthumous book needs a publisher, and her ex-friend Emily wants to rekindle their relationship. As they did once before, these two women—one dead, one very alive—force Emily to reckon with her decisions, her failures, and what kind of creative life she wants to lead.
A sharp, reflective, and funny story of a young woman coming into herself and struggling to find her place, Vintage Contemporaries is a novel about art, parenthood, loyalty, and fighting for a cause—the times we do the right thing, and the times we fail—set in New York City on both sides of the millennium.
Dan Kois is a writer, editor, and podcaster at Slate, where his work has been nominated for two National Magazine Awards and two Writers Guild Awards. He’s the author of the novel Vintage Contemporaries; How to Be a Family, a memoir; The World Only Spins Forward (with Isaac Butler), which was a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book; and Facing Future, a book of music criticism and biography. He is a frequent guest and host of Slate’s Culture Gabfest podcast, was a founding host of Slate’s Mom and Dad Are Fighting podcast, and hosts The Martin Chronicles, a podcast about Martin Amis. He grew up in Milwaukee, where his first job was delivering the Milwaukee Sentinel, and now lives with his family in Virginia.
"Overstuffed with bittersweet beauty." — Los Angeles Times
“A bittersweet love letter to 1990s New York….what’s best about Kois’ work here is…his eye for detail and penchant for humorously trenchant descriptions….This keenly observed…atmospheric first novel is an ode to friendship, creativity, and an era now gone.” — Kirkus Reviews
"A novel that is both an argument about art and a compelling example of it." — New York Times Book Review
“What a warm and delightful novel about friendship, responsibility, ambition, and legacy. Poignant without being treacly, Vintage Contemporaries is a time capsule of the recent past, and a wry and tender work of art.” — Lydia Kiesling, author of The Golden State
"Vintage Contemporaries is about being young and becoming less young, exploring friendship (sometimes magical, sometimes messy), parenthood (ditto), and how to reconcile youthful ambition and ideals with real life. It’s a warm and big-hearted coming of age story that made me wistful for my own twenties, set in a vividly rendered and long-vanished New York City." — Rumaan Alam, bestselling author of Leave the World Behind
“Kois delivers a bravura first novel . . . . Kois' delectably smart, witty, caring, and radiating read channels an amusing and admirable woman’s evolving perspective and experiences.” — Donna Seaman, Booklist
“Smart, sharp and with a twist of inside publishing, this novel is a gem.” — Zibby Owens, Good Morning America
“Kois skewers the myth of the “one right path” through life, while gently acknowledging our continued belief in it. A coming-of-age story built on unlikely friendships, Vintage Contemporaries is a novel of contradictions; it’s all there in the name.” — Elle
"It is joyful and comforting to read a novel with loving, complicated characters who aren't defeated by life—despite many reasons they could be." — Washington Post
"Lovers of used paperbacks and 1990s nostalgia will find a lot to like about this wholesome debut novel." — Associated Press
"Exceptionally warm-hearted . . . mounts a convincing case for such uncool causes as good taste over fashionable taste, editing as creative craft work, and smart novels where everything matters only as much as it ever matters in life." — Vox
"Charming." — Publishers Weekly
"Vintage Contemporaries is about many things—art, friendship, youth, desire, a very particular slice of New York City—but what makes this masterful debut sing is Dan Kois’s dazzling excavation of the human heart and all its contradictions, mystery, and beauty. Smart, laugh-out-loud funny and consistently surprising, this novel is a gem.” — Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, New York Times bestselling author of The Nest and Good Company
“Vintage Contemporaries is an elegant and tender exploration of friendship, the passage of time, and what we lose and gain in the process of becoming ourselves. Part elegiac, part mindful of what nostalgia can obscure about the past, Dan Kois’s novel provides precise insight into the defining moments of youth and adulthood, and finds grace and abundant possibility in both.” — Danielle Evans, author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self and The Office of Historical Corrections
"A delightful, funny novel that asks the question, Is writing about happiness an important thing to do?—while doing exactly that, so beautifully and convincingly that it’s like a magic trick.” — Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It and Do Not Become Alarmed