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A Novel

James Wood


Upstate Download image

ISBN10: 1250215056
ISBN13: 9781250215055

Trade Paperback

224 Pages



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In the years since his daughter Vanessa moved to America to become a professor of philosophy, Alan Querry has never been to visit. He has been too busy at home in northern England, holding together his business as a successful property developer. His younger daughter, Helen—a music executive in London—hasn’t gone, either, and the two sisters, close but competitive, have never quite recovered from their parents’ bitter divorce and the early death of their mother. But when Vanessa’s new boyfriend sends word that she has fallen into a severe depression and that he’s worried for her safety, Alan and Helen fly to New York and take the train to Saratoga Springs.

Over the course of six wintry days in upstate New York, the Querry family begins to struggle with the questions that animate this profound and searching novel: Why do some people find living so much harder than others? Is happiness a skill that might be learned or a cruel accident of birth? Is reflection conducive to happiness or an obstacle to it? If, as a favorite philosopher of Helen’s puts it, “the only serious enterprise is living,” how should we live?


Praise for Upstate

"[Upstate] ... captures the anxious plight of a loving father with exquisite delicacy. Indeed, Upstate feels like a finely cut rebuttal to the hysterical realism of those sprawling social novels that Wood has famously criticized. But its affections are large, and its wisdom deep—a wonderful exception amid the voluminous literature of bad fathers."—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"Upstate is resolutely a novel of character, and the intelligence that animates it is recognizably Wood’s . . . Family reconfiguration is Upstate’s overt theme, and that is treated with great subtlety and comic grace."—Christian Lorentzen , Vulture

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


First he would have to go and see his mother. He would tell her—something about Vanessa, not everything of course. The home, six miles along a favorite road, was a formidable old place, with that gray strictness of the north he loved....

About the author

James Wood

James Wood is a book critic at The New Yorker and the recipient of a National Magazine Award in criticism. He is the author of essay collections, the novel The Book Against God, and the study How Fiction Works. He is a professor of the practice of literary criticism at Harvard University.

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James Wood

Read Articles by the Author at the New Yorker