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Bright Lights, Big City Paperback – August 12, 1984

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Editorial Reviews


"Bright Lights, Big City is a brilliant and moving work—unique, refreshing, imaginatively powerful and authentically conceived."
The New York Times

"Bright Lights, Big City defined, and even determined, the mood of this whole town."
Vanity Fair

"Short, sleek and very funny.... Beneath it's surface, though, a heart's cry for a saner, sweeter, more thoughtful and restrained existence."
Chicago Tribune

"Each generation needs its Manhattan novel, and many ache to write it. But it was McInerney who succeeded."
The New York Times Book Review 

From the Inside Flap

The tragicomedy of a young man in NYC, struggling with the reality of his mother's death, alienation and the seductive pull of drugs.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 182 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (August 12, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394726413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394726410
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (147 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jay McInerney is the author of Bright Lights, Big City, Ransom, Story of My Life, Brightness Falls, The Last of the Savages, Model Behaviour, How It Ended and The Good Life. He lives in New York and Nashville.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 62 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Here you go again. All messed up and no place to go."

That line sets the tone for "Bright Lights, Big City." Jay McInerney's bestselling debut stands above other urban-angst novels of the time, which tended to go with shock value. Instead, McInerney experimented with second-person narratives and a vision of a fragmented, coke-dusted New York.

"You" are a young man living in New York, and wife Amanda has recently left you for a French photographer she met on a modelling shoot. Understandably you are depressed and unhappy, and the loss of Amanda haunts your moods, especially when her lawyer urges you to sue her for "sexual abandonment," even though you don't want a divorce.

By day, you work in the fact-checking department of a prestigious magazine, where your malignant boss is getting tired of you. By night, you halfheartedly prowl clubs with your pal Tad, doing drugs and meeting women you care nothing for. Will you be able to move past your problems and become happy again?

Consider that summary a little slice of what "Bright Lights, Big City" sounds like -- the reader is the main character, which allows the reader to slip into another's skin for a brief time. Second-person narratives are often annoying, but McInerney's style is so starkly compelling that the little narrative trick pays off.

The New York of "Bright Lights, Big City" is basically a big, glitzy, hollow place, but still strangely appealing. And McInerney adds splinters of reality here and there, like the tattooed girl and Coma Baby, which add to the gritty you-are-there feel of the novel itself.
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102 of 122 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on October 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Bright lights, big city...Where skin-deep is the mode, your traditional domestic values are not going to take root and flourish. -Jay McInerney
It seems hard to account for the visceral loathing that Jay McInerney provoked in critics after publishing this best-selling first novel. Here's a typical comment from Weekly Wire:
Hot young actor Ethan Hawke's first novel, The Hottest State, is mostly reminiscent of what used to pass for literary writing in the 1980s: a first person narrative of a vapid young man living in New York City, told without allusion, metaphor or self-reference. Essentially, the kind of airport-novel-taken-as-art for which Jay McInerney and Brett Easton Ellis were once praised, and then later reviled.
Bad enough to be hammered like that, but to be lumped with the truly awful Bret Easton Ellis? Ouch! Perhaps it was simply the jealousy that authors always seem to feel towards successful fellow writers. Perhaps it was a generational thing; who was this punk kid to replace Hemingway's wine drenched Paris with a coke sprinkled New York? And, of course, his own generation was hardly going to defend an author who told them that they were all shallow and wasting their lives. Whatever the cause, the literary establishment has been so aggressively dismissive of him and this novel that liking it feels almost like a guilty pleasure. But I do like it very much.
The book is unusual in that it is written in the second person, which, combined with the tone, makes the whole thing read, appropriately, like an admonishment. It opens in a Manhattan night spot with the line: "You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By MichaelManus on January 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
I never understood why critics always want to trash Mc Inerney when his work is so obviously good. This is the book that made me desperate to write in the 2nd person and failed miserably! The characters are both hilarious and tragic and the scenes with the main character at his job as a fact checker seriously made me want to jump out of a window. You can feel this guy's pain in a gripping, terrible way and can understand why he does what he does and becomes a cocaine cripple. The writing is fantastic and evokes a world that truly doesn't exist anymore- New York in the mid 80s. The ending struck me as odd on the 1st read but then I loved it. I've become a real fan of all of Mc Inerney's books and can only imagine that people were jealous of him when he published- that such a young guy could write such an interesting, gripping book. Writers always want to talk trash about other writers it seems and critics love to talk trash about authors. It's their job, unfortunately. But Mc Inerney and Ellis and Jamowitz got all this criticism when I would have given them praise. Read Bright Lights Big City- I dare you to not like it! And also- if you ever wanted to hang out in Manhattan circa 1986, this book might make you want to stay right where you are.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
"Bright Lights, Big City" is a short book and reads very quickly. I think this is one of the reasons many critics feel justified in dismissing it. You can read this novel in an afternoon, and perhaps BLBC's digestibility works against it; critics tend to take this slim, sometimes breezy work far too lightly.
I am often mystified at the sneering dismissals. What is the objection, exactly? The sophistication of BLBC's prose is something that is hard to argue with: there are lovely sentences and phrases on every page, and the wit is finely modulated, often tempered with a note of scarcely-contained despair. The protagonist is in such spiritual agony that the jokes are never merely flippant; it hurts to laugh when someone is this far down, although laughter is necessary to leaven the starkness of the situation.
Maybe some people were turned off by McInerney's use of the second person. When the character is "you," the reader is inevitably going to be aware of a certain friction between their own values/character and the narrator's. What saves BLBC's second-person voice from gimmickry is that the story is universal; we have all, at some point, been at the cusp of a far-reaching disaster, when every moment feels like borrowed time and we live in the dead-zone interstices between day and night. The situation is identifiable; ergo, the second-person is not only seamless -- it is insidious, conspiratorial. Yes, McInerney made a risky choice, but he sustains the "you" conceit very skillfully.
What makes BLBC so successful is that it eschews self-indulgence, easy satire, obsessive autobiography. In short, it avoids the usual flaws of the first novel. Instead, it is characterized by modesty and generosity.
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