Saturday, February 09, 2008

Jay McInerney's "The Good Life"

If push comes to shove, I would have to say that Jay McInerney is one of my favourite living authors - though his books tend to creep up on me - a few years after they've come out - perhaps a legacy of that early fame with "Bright Lights, Big City." Anyway, given that I think that "Brightness Falls" is his masterpiece, I'm surprised that I've only just gone and bought the follow-up, "The Good Life." Intriguely, he revisits book editor Russell, and his wife Corrine, in the days surrounding 9/11. Given that "Brightness Falls" was such a New York novel, revisiting the Carraways a decade and a half on, must have seemed an obvious way to responding to 9/11. If "Brightness Falls" found our characters carried away by their personal and professional lives in the high octane early 90s, a decade on, these are lives that have remained somewhat static since. Whereas Russell was then attempting to buy-out the publishing company, in the newer book he's more jaded, a mildly successful editor, looking enviously on the richer friends in their circle. In this book its Corrine who is the focus - where, on joining a soup kitchen to help the rescue workers - she meets Luke, a broker who has downsized. The plot is simplicity itself, and it avoids some of the more extravagance tropes that made "Brightness Falls" so dazzling, instead concentrating - with some success - on middle age love, and the choices that it forces you to make. Like an urban "Bridges of Madison County" Luke and Corrine have found their soulmate, but the social mores of the circles they move in - though far more forgiving of infidelities than you'd find in Edith Wharton, for instance - are no less constricting. It's style is inevitably less jokey than some of his earlier works, and sometimes the writing is more like reportage from the marital frontline than fiction, but it remains an admirable work. Perhaps when it came out there was some cynicism in its use of 9/11 as a hook; but I think it gets away with it - since even for those in the vicinity when it happened, life would soon go back to something approaching normal: the immensity of the event causes McInerney's characters to act out-of-character, but like Fitzgerald's Tom and Daisy Buchanan, their social world slowly heals itself, and "the good life" (always an ironic title) goes on.

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