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
From Publishers Weekly
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