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"You could have cut your losses, but you rode past that moment on a comet trail of white powder.",
This review is from: Bright Lights, Big City (Bloomsbury Classic Series) (Hardcover)
Tracing a few days in the life of a 24-year-old writer whose brain is frequently inhabited by "brigades of Bolivian soldiers...tired and muddy from their long march through the night," Jay McInerney takes the reader into the world of cocaine, club-hopping (at the "right" clubs), casual sex, avoidance of responsibility, and full-time self-indulgence in the early 1980s. With absurd humor, he satirizes the "high" life of New York City and the non-stop action and party scene of young professionals whose frantic activity keeps them from having to deal with the real world.
The unnamed main character becomes the reader as the author uses the second person point of view, telling the story as "you" go to work and clubs, and jaunt around the city. "You" work for a magazine at which no one has ever been fired, and where old, burnt-out columnists maunder in the hallways (a satire of The New Yorker, perhaps). "Your" immediate assignment is to translate and fact-check an article about the French elections by a deadline that "you" cannot possibly meet.
Gradually, "your" story unfolds. Your marriage to Amanda, a fashion model from the Midwest, has collapsed after less than a year--you are devastated by her desertion, and you have told no one of your divorce. Your article for the magazine is a disaster. You avoid dealing with these issues and the death of your mother (more than a year ago) by creating a new reality for yourself through cocaine. The turning point of the action comes with the arrival of your brother Michael, who summons you back home for your mother's memorial service and the scattering of her ashes.
It is difficult to write a novel that focuses on shallow people living shallow lives without having the novel be shallow, but McInerney's point of view forces the reader to identify with the main character, and his uncompromising vision of this empty life, which he presents with absurd humor, is entertaining. Similes and metaphors here are sometimes over-the-top. ("Her voice was like the New Jersey state anthem played through an electric shaver." Tad is "a figure skater who never considers the sharks under the ice.") But these provide some variety within McInerney's short, staccato sentences, most of which march along like the "Bolivian soldiers." A snapshot of New York life in the early 1980s, Bright Lights, Big City is a landmark novel for its insights into an era. Mary Whipple