After the wit and brevity of Bright Lights..., Story of My Life and Ransom, Brightness Falls is McInerney's effortful biggie, 400+ pages and witty rather than comic. It covers a year in the life of husband and wife Russell and Corrine Calloway. He's a publisher and she's a stock dealer, and their marriage will pretty soon be in trouble. As the action takes place in the year to October 1987, you can probably guess where we're heading. Yes, it's an historical novel (although he wrote it contemporaneously) with all the prerequisites of 80s Manhattan life, down to and including a big disease with a little name.
Plotwise, even the blurb finds it difficult to make the book sound interesting, feebly tailing off with a Robert Goddard-esque "None of them would ever be the same again..." Because the plot itself wouldn't drive you wild with desire, unless you like to read about management buyouts and corporate shafting. It starts off weakly too, with that most dangerous of set pieces, the dinner party, so the author can introduce lots of characters at once. (The disappointing Gosford Park, the careful will recall, was one big dinner party scene.) But it settles down quite quickly and once he entered the mind of Corrine in chapter 3, I was hooked. The book then trundles on for 400 agreeable pages, with everyone suffering minor setbacks but nothing too serious - they are the beautiful people, after all - even the writer who goes cold turkey in a rehab clinic seems to take it all with insouciance and a dry wit. (Up to a point.)
Where Brightness Falls succeeds best, though, is in making you think that this is a retelling of some archetypal story that you already knew. "Ah yes," you find yourself thinking throughout, "this is that book about the yuppies who lose it all..." It almost makes you believe that Brightness Falls is the original myth - if it hadn't been for Bonfire of the Vanities... And readers of McInerney's last novel Model Behaviour may recognise a plot point, lifted wholesale from Brightness Falls and redelivered (rather more successfully, I might add) in humorous context. A book, then, that is in both senses of the word, truly *economic.*