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The Good Life Paperback – April 24, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375725458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375725456
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,042,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review Exclusive: James Frey Reviews The Good Life

Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City was initially released in 1984. Twenty years later it is still an important book, and it has been an influence on a generation of writers, including me. McInerney's career since has been one of highs (Brightness Falls, The Last of the Savages) and lows (Ransom, The Story of my Life). He became a wine columnist, married and divorced, became a father to a pair of twins. In New York, he has remained a highly visible public figure, regularly seen at book parties and on the gossip page. Outside of New York, many people seem to have forgotten him. Often, when I bring up his later works, people respond with something along the lines of--I didn't know he wrote anything after Bright Lights.

The writer whose career McInernery's most resembles is that of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Both achieved huge, almost overwhelming early success. Both struggled to work their way out of the glare and expectations of that success. Both became known as much for their lifestyles as much as their books. While Fitzgerald wrote a masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, that McInerney, or almost anyone for that matter, has yet to match, McInernery has done something that may, over time, prove to be more interesting: he's lived through the downs of his life, continues to work, and is producing the kind of books we might have expected from Fitzgerald had he lived past the age of 44.

His latest book, The Good Life, is, in my opinion, his best book since Bright Lights, Big City. It tells the story of two Manhattan couples around the days of the events of September 11th. Luke and Sasha, wealthy Upper-East side socialites, and Russell and Corrine, a downtown literary editor and his wife, who were the subject of the earlier book Brightness Falls, are sleepwalking through their lives. They have parties and go to parties, live with spouses they're no longer sure they love, struggle with the correct way to raise their children. Luke is a banker who left his multi-million dollar job in search of something more fulfilling, while his wife is cheating on him with a former rival. Corrine is a stay-at-home mother whose husband is more concerned with work and other women than his family. Neither Luke nor Corrine see any way out of their marriages. Both end up working at a soup-kitchen near Ground Zero in the days immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Centers. They fall in love. They plan a future together. It's a simple story, a basic love story, and in the hands of a lesser writer, The Good Life could be awful. Instead, it's a very subtle, incredibly insightful, heartbreaking story about life in the New York, about marriage, about children and the choices they force us to make, about love and longing, about the search for meaning in our lives. It's a book about hope and how we find it, sustain and lose it, and it's a book about loss and how we deal with it.

It's also a deeply personal book, McInerney's most personal since Bright Lights, and it feels to me like I'm reading about variations of McInerney's own life. He, like Fitzgerald, is at his best when he's putting his own experiences into the lives of his characters, and I've never felt more of McInerney, or felt more vulnerability, which to me is a sign of strength in a writer, Unfortunately, Fitzgerald's life was unsustainable. He died drunk, penniless, alone, forgotten. McInernery could have followed his path, and it sometimes seemed like he would. Thankfully he didn't. People wondered what kind of writer Fitzgerald might have been had he lived. McInerney, his closest succesor, is starting to show us. --James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

[Signature]Reviewed by Alain de BottonJay McInerney's new novel seems from the outside to be composed of the most disheartening elements: The Good Life is about a group of privileged New Yorkers who are led to reassess their lives—and become in many ways better people—in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The plot premise seems so pat and topical that the reader is likely to take fright. But there is mercifully no need. It is a tribute to McInerney's many talents that he can wrest from his schematic structure a novel that is both tender and entertaining.As often in McInerney's world, we find ourselves among a wealthy and ambitious elite, whom the novelist seems both intensely drawn to and repelled by. The focus is on two New York couples: Russell (publishing) and Corinne (screen writing), Luke (ex-banker) and Sasha (charity). McInerney brings an amusingly bitchy eye to bear on their lifestyles (for example, a character's double-height living room is described as appearing "to be holding its breath, as if awaiting a crew from Architectural Digest"). He keeps track of their snobbery and their social one-upmanship with all the attention to detail of a seasoned society columnist. New York resembles a latter-day version of imperial Rome in its last years, a once-noble civilization now shorn of its moral compass. In McInerney's New York, all citizens appear to take drugs, show off at charity balls, palm their children off on badly paid nannies and have sex with people other than their spouses. No one seems altruistic, high-minded, innocent—or plain nice.Then the planes strike the towers and two of the characters, Corinne and Luke, start to reappraise their faltering marriages. It becomes clear that the focus of McInerney's concern is not terrorism or politics but love: how relationships can disintegrate through children and routine, the tension between love and sex and what can keep a union alive. This is a novel about shallowness and what might replace it.For all of McInerney's surface cynicism, he's a writer—like Martin Amis perhaps—with whom, beneath the surface, there is a surprisingly simple, some might say naïve, ideal of goodness at work. Whenever this most cynical of writers has to reveal his allegiances, rather than his hatreds, they turn out to be remarkably homespun. The conclusion of the novel is undramatic. The characters may be searching for The Good Life, but their quest doesn't end up with the discovery of a holy grail. McInerney is describing a relentlessly secular world, where there are no easy sources of redemption. The characters end up finding meaning in those two stalwarts of the bourgeois worldview: romantic love and the love of children. This story is a simple one, but McInerney delivers it with grace and wit. He does what a good novelist should: he takes an abstract idea and gives it life. (Jan.)Alain de Botton is the author of On Love, Status Anxiety and How Proust Can Change Your Life, among other books.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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

A clear, clean and crisp original style of prose.
Shawn S. Sullivan
Regardless of how much I dislike it, I continue to pick up the book... continue to read.
Scott Reston
Not so for the characters in this book, none of whom are particularly likeable.
CT Reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Noirgirl on April 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Like a couple of the other reviewers I experienced 9/11 in downtown Manhattan, and it still upsets me, obviously, so I was not sure I was ready to read a book about it yet. I almost could not even stand looking at the cover art. But I trust Jay McInerney, one of my favorite New York writers, so despite my initial reluctance I decided to give it a try. I am really glad I did.

I was very surprised by a few of the bad reviews here. But I also notice that a lot of the people for whom this book resonated the most were New Yorkers. This book for me, also, is the first post-9/11 piece of creative work (fiction, art, whatever) that I really related to and thought captured a lot of what I felt and still feel about experiencing 9/11 in New York. It did so in a beautifully written, emotionally moving way without exploiting or being trite or missing the point. If you were there (and of course even if you weren't) I think this book is really important to read.

The book is not so much about the actual experience of 9/11 but the grieving and healing process afterward that was so particular and shocking and unreal for a lot of us. It is somehow very cathartic to read about these characters going through their recovery from 9/11 in such simple, everyday, yet momentous ways. The emotions in the book are real and they are more complex than they seem. I related to so many of them, especially as they were displayed in the central relationship of the book. Far from being "maudlin," I thought that relationship really beautifully captured the sentimentality and idealism that a lot of people demonstrated even in the face of terror.
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29 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Tom Casey Reviews on March 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
If you have gained a reputation as an important writer, it is part of the game to hold claim to the territory. Commercial culture and the swell of mediocrity in American entertainment have seen a degradation of language arts that tells a story of low expectations, complacency, and indifference to excellence in the general population. If there is no demand for quality there will be no supply. For this reason the responsibility of writers to hold to a high standard is greater today, but the seductions of an undiscriminating marketplace are also great for those writers whose name will sell books.

The Good Life is a terrible novel by a talented writer. It seems almost as though two Jay McInerneys conferred on the concept of this book, or a committee of Jay McInerneys, each with a bad idea voted into the final draft. Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11 is offered, without irony, as the central metaphor. But also, as if to underscore the barren existence of his characters, the children of Russell, an editor, and his wife, Corrine, are the spawn of eggs taken from Corrine's sister, Hilary, and artificially inseminated. The identities of the main characters are likewise artificially inseminated with place-names, clothing brands, and vague association with celebrities from the literary and money trades of metropolitan New York. "Salman Rushdie" and "Paul Auster" drop from the page with a dull thud, along with references to publishing houses, notable prep schools, the Hamptons, and Nantucket, until you have a sense that the author is inserting himself rather too insistently by implication as a veteran of these places for the same sterile reasons as his characters. "I am my watch, I am my prep school, I am my cuff-links," his people seem to say.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Read a lot on March 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The idea of this book intrigued me, but instead of an insight into the post 911 world, the book is full of simple ideas and shallow characters. I loved Bright Lights, . . . He should have stopped writing after that one. The book starts strong, but then loses it. Don't waste your time.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By pat black on March 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This was hyped as a return to form for McInerney, so having loved Bright Lights, I gave it a try. But he's way out of his league addressing serious themes. And the never-ending references to high-end consumer products made me want to scream. This isn't the 80s and that short of shorthand (or crutch) lost its lustre a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away. It's time to accept that Bright Lights was the one good book McInerney had in him. Like Brett, Tama and the Flock of Seagulls, Jay belongs to another era.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By hendu on November 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Specifically, you'd have thought that Russell and Corrine Calloway would've learned from what happened to them in the aftermath of the Stock Market Crash of 1987 (chronicled in "Brightness Falls").

Nah...they're still the shallow, selfish, self-absorbed people they were 14 years before.

The trouble is, you can't really tell whether McInerney thinks that's a good thing or a bad thing.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful By MartinP on April 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This novel follows up on the main characters of Brightness Falls. It seems tempting to be offered a sequel to that wonderful book, but the result is disappointing. Basically, this is a tawdry tale of marital infidelity and sexual obsession. It moves from one clich? to the next, and at times seems little more than a glorified penny dreadful. Where the earlier novel exuded a startling sense of realism, this one looses itself in gratuitous namesdropping and bombastic philosophizing. There is very little on offer to make us understand Corrinne's, Russell`s and Luke's vacillations, which appear to be exclusively hormone-driven. In the end, why they makes the choices that they do is completely unclear. The whole 9/11 context is an utter Fremdk?rper, weighing the novel down with connotations it isn't able to sustain. Had it been left out, this would have made very little difference to the story. Only very occasionally are there flashes of McInerney's former style, as in the final pages, which are peculiarly moving. But that is not sufficent reward after struggling through these 350+ pages, most of the time plain bored. If you have good memories of the Calloways from Brightness Falls, leave it that way and skip this, I'd say.
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