The Novels of
DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE?
It’s the question asked of the unnamed central character in Jay McInerney’s seminal debut novel ‘Bright Lights, Big City.’
Since Bright Lights release in 1984 McInerney has released a further six novels as well as two collections of short stories and two non-fiction books about his passion for fine wine. Throughout his fiction we see familiar themes, among which we might see the directionless, hedonism of youth, struggles with fidelity and neuroses attached to growing old or growing up to numerous examples of eccentricity in the family.
Bright Lights, Big City
A week in the life of a wannabe writer. Bright Lights is a frenetic journey through mid-80′s Manhattan.
In the throes of despair following the split from his model wife, we journey through hazy, hungover mornings at work in the Department of Factual Verification of a high-brow magazine, following booze and drug induced nights before.
Written with sharp dialogue and laser-precise observation this is a seminal novel in 80′s American culture as McInerney creates a brilliant portrayal of a man spiralling downwards among the excesses of the glamorous, hedonistic world in which he inhabits.
Compared at the time to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, it is a dazzling debut novel from a writer who would go on to become one of America’s finest modern authors.
Christopher Ransom is a young American living in Kyoto, Japan.
Struggling with the guilt of an event in his past Ransom throws himself into Japanese life and culture as if to do so would be to purge whatever wrongs he carries with him.
Although not as sharply prescient as Bright Lights,the book still engages us and if the novel occasionally descends towards cliche it is forgiven due to the characteristically wry episodic style, the well-observed cultural divides and some beautifully crafted dialogue.
And, with a stunning ending that that will surely cut to the bone.
Story Of My Life
McInerney returns to 80′s New York for his 3rd Novel.
This time seen through the lens of Alison Poole; sharp-tongued, sexy girl about town. Alison is a drama school student sharing an apartment in Manhattan with her best friend.
Returning to familiar territory this is a terrific short novel with crackling dialogue, biting humour and some of the finest characterisations of the era.
Portraying an empty world of casual sex and even more casual cocaine usage, it’s a hilarious trip through a world of lost nights, absent parents, love-sick drug dealers and awkward moments at the gynaecologist before, as is ever the case with high excess, a tumbling crash down to earth.
Russell and Corrine Calloway are the pioneers of wedded bliss among the rogues gallery of single sinners in 87′ Manhattan.
Russell, an idealistic publisher and Corrine, a stock-broker with an unusual sense of grounding are the central hub of this eclectic look at life, literature and high finance in New York prior to the bubble bursting.
Arguably the finest American novel of the past quarter-century this is a quite brilliant portrait of a city and a time. With some wonderful set-pieces, episodes that move from gut-burstingly funny to heart-breakingly sad in the turn of a page. Remarkably drawn characters that bring to mind creations of Dickens and Thackeray at their finest and a beautifully crafted story that depicts the sadness of a marriage in crisis set against the wider drama of the collapse of America’s capitalist dream.
As prescient today as it was then, this is a book for the ages and deserves to be considered a classic.
The Last of the Savages
Told from the viewpoint of repressed lawyer Patrick Keane, this is a look back at American cultural history in the final third of the 20th Century.
He recounts the unlikely friendship with Will Savage, the privileged son of a wealthy Southern land owner who rebels against his heritage, embracing black culture and the soul music that would grow to define an era. It’s a soulful journey of a friendship spawned in the boarding rooms of an elitist New England school in the 1960′s, surviving the tribulations that follow over the next three decades.
This is a beautifully written story of enduring friendship, of political and cultural divisions and the weight of expectation and history upon the shoulders of those growing up through the period.
Long since compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald, this is the novel that bears closest resemblance; Savage is the Gatsby of his generation, Patrick Keane is McInerney’s Nick Carroway.
Returning to New York this is essentially Bright Lights, Big City for the 90′s.
Inhabiting the same world as McInerney’s debut novel, albeit a decade on, we are again afforded access to the fashionable side of Manhattan life through the experiences of Conner McKnight, reporter for CiaoBella magazine.
If the central plot shows a passing resemblance to Bright Lights…(aspiring writer despairing over the split with his model partner) the novel itself is anything but a recreation and more than stands on its own merit.
This is arguably McInerney at his satirical best, beautifully skewering the foibles of an eccentric landscape whilst retaining a likeability and sense of pathos to the central characters. With some wonderful set-pieces among the bold and beautiful of New York culture and some Wodehouse like wit in the dialogue this is a wonderfully funny and prophetic look at a culture obsessed on appearance and celebrity.
The Good Life
Not to be confused with the classic BBC sitcom this is a thoughtful, well-crafted novel that deals with New York life in the aftermath of 9/11.
The story revisits the central characters from Brightness Falls which, a treat for those so invested in those lives. Their evolution through the intervening years is, for the most part, believable if at times uncomfortable and there is a sense of pleasure in reading about them after all these years – a re-acquaintance with old friends as it were.
The absence of a key character is, however, as keenly felt by the reader as it is the characters left behind, and the novel is the weaker for it.
However, this is not a sequel as such and readers new to McInerney will just as easily pick this up and run with the story in its own right. Given the subject matter and the rawness still felt by those involved it’s a fine novel from a master of the craft, portraying a city and a culture deeply wounded and the struggles we have as we grow older to accept that things can never be as they once were.