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The Good Life Hardcover – January 31, 2006

3.3 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon.com 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

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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375411402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375411403
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #644,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a long, monotonous romp through the wonderful world of rich white people and all the melodrama they fill their time with. The only thing different from other McInerney novels is that this one manages to reduce the 9/11 tragedy to nothing more than a backdrop for WASPs to sleep with each other, drink, do drugs, and commit other random acts of narcissistic pettiness. It's kind of like the equivalent of what Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer did to "Pearl Harbor."

On a more positive note: Despite the content being lame it's written really, really well.

Then again, what do I know? Maybe there's more going on in this book than I am aware of. Maybe it's just me because I do not come from the world that is depicted in this book. So, having said that, perhaps it's actually an amazing read and it's me who his lacking.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The story takes place before and after September 11, 2001. I was disappointed in the ending. I was rooting for the two main characters, but I wanted to shake the other characters, especially the wife, Sasha and th husband, Russell. The other characters made me think that if people in New York talk such gobbledy-gook. Is this really how Americans talk? Just makes me shake my head.
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Jay McInerney has been a favorite author of mine since Bright Lights, Big City. It might be that we are of the same generation because his stories always resonate with me.

One thing I like about his books is that he manages to reference phenomena without saying it directly. So it puts you in the moment just like it happened in real time. For example the way he treat AIDS. He talks around it, just like it was when it happened and people didn't quite understand what it was. That habit of his is why I think his books resonate with me. It's like I experienced at the time.

There is an infidelity part to this story. That to me was a bit triggery due to my own life experience so if that is something that upsets you to be reminded of, fair warning. Again it's lightly handled (to the point that you *want* one of the partners to leave for the affair partner - a thing that shocks me to feel) which makes it feel a reasonable portrayal of how people can be incentivized to look elsewhere and get in over their head before they even realize it.
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