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on 24 November 2013
Jay McInerney's novel is one of those works which has a setting so firmly set in the eighties you can almost feel shoulder pads growing on your shoulders as you enter the lives of 30ish power yuppie couple, Russell and Corinne Calloway. Although it was published in the early nineties, the story takes place in 1987. There is a kind of retro-chic vibe to reading about Wall Street in Lower Manhattan right before its dramatic crash that same year, in tandem with the downward spiral of the Calloways, the prematurely jaded urbanites who have not entirely left behind their heady drugs-n-booze filled college days.

The Calloways are Hollywoodishly-attractive - Corinne is a runway model-thin blonde stock broker struggling to leave behind her eating disorder. Russell, a would-be-poet who inevitably gave up his literary aspirations and `settled' for a more corporate position as a promising junior editor at the esteemed publishing firm, which he eventually tries to buy over with the help of a shady mafia boss-like player in the industry, Bernie Melman. Russell still retains traces of his manchild persona, but is fast approaching the use-by-date for clumsy oafish cuteness (his nickname is `Crash Calloway' and Corinne knowingly alludes to this lost of appeal when relating to their friend Washington, that he had been crashing less into things these days). Washington leads another story arc that deals with the woes of being black in corporate America. McInerney somewhat succeeds to this end, if only he hadn't made Washington exhibit all the custom shenanigans that ironically make him the very stereotype that McInerney seems to be protesting.

But in case the reader misreads the Calloways as mere caricatures of the opportunistic and excessive eighties, McInerney frames the introduction through (we later find out) the eyes of Jeff, their writer friend, in danger of becoming a one-hit wonder in the literary world, and recovering at rehab. Jeff, qualifies his ambivalent view of them as such: "Begin with an individual and you'll find you've got nothing but ambiguity and compassion: if you intend violence, stick with the type." McInerney fashions Corinne as a somewhat a redemptive figure. While retaining her grip on the gritty reality of New York and its ways, she volunteers at a soup kitchen downtown, but ultimately her view of the underprivileged is still rose-tinted, despite her nobler intentions, as she finds out later in the novel when encountering personal violence. She acts as the voice of conscience, though unsuccessfully, to Russell, whom we see gets drawn into the lure of power and money, even as she backs away from it. Corinne could potentially be an effective character, but she too, is too weak, and eventually succumbs to the trappings of various trademark flailing, betrayed female characters on the verge of a meltdown. In other words, she retreats into her shell and lets her demons take over as Russell flounders.

In a way, having read McInerney's later book about the Calloways circa 9/11 "The Good Life", in which Corinne takes centrestage as a middle-aged woman fighting infidelity, before this novel, may have skewed my impressions of characters and storylines, but it also gives me a feeling of pathos towards these failed characters and their private dramas. As is seen in his other novels, McInerney's prose is sharp and clean, and befitting the brusque and fast-paced life in the city.
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on 18 June 2002
This, rather than his more epic but also more flawed Last Of The Savages, is McInerney's closest and most successful stab at the great American novel. Beautifully structured, perfectly characterised with passages of writing at once humorous and heartbreaking, the novel manges to be as epic in scope as its New York setting yet as intimate and compelling as the marriage it portrays. The only real comparison to do it justice is Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is The Night, another novel that succeeded in telling us all about a time and a place at a particular period through telling us about two people and their strange and yet ultimately sustaining love. Because the author is rightly seen as a humourist it is easy to forget that that few modern writers can cast an eye on places and people at once sharply objective and wryly compassionate and it is also forgotten what a fine writer McInerney can be, something he demonstrates amply and consistently in Brighntess Falls. A fine romance, a lovesong to a city and an era passed, a surprising portrait of what marrigage is and does, a tender social satire and something like a modern classic, I would highly recommnend this underated book.
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on 23 August 2015
The "plot" of this novel is so thin - something to do with a management buyout of a publishing house - that it is best to forget it and read the chapters as biting portraits of a certain kind of member of New York society in the 1980s.

In bits, some episodes are enjoyable and funny and could even be read at random since they are so loosely connected to the "plot". However, as a whole, the book is tedious, slow and never ending.

There are poisonous portrayals of the usual caricatures of the time - greedy yuppies, insecure artistic types, unfaithful couples, upstart outsiders, usually Jewish or token blacks, trying to break into the WASP establishment that refuses to accept them.

There are all the usual scenes in upmarket restaurants, trendy bars, Caribbean hideaways, art exhibitions etc. with references to characters wanting to buy their way onto the board of the Museum of Modern Art or real-life politicians, financiers and actors.

It has been all done before - by McInerny himself and Tom Wolfe in fiction and in non-fiction books like "Barbarians at the Gate". Don't expect any surprises.
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on 26 February 2015
A wonderful read. One of those books that you struggle to put down but as you approach the end you find yourself slowing down conflicted by wanting to know the ending but not wanting it to end. This is my first experience of McInerney and having read four or five of his since then this is still my favourite of his. Along with "Bonfire of the Vanities" and "American Psycho" this is one of the best and most enjoyable novels to sum up the excess of Reagan era America.
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on 12 July 2013
Every now and again you read a book where the main players become your friends. McInerney's ability to convince a reader that they are listening to a story told by a friend, of a friend, rather than a fictional tale, amazes me.

'Brightness Falls' revolves around the 'golden' couple - Russell and Corrine Calloway - and their social and work-related highs and lows. Russell is a fantastically easy-to-read (and easy-to-like) character, displaying his every emotion to the people around him, whilst Corrine is the quieter and more withdrawn of the two, preferring to keep her problems bottled up.

McInerney's vivid account of their lives presents the reader with a gripping insider's look at 1980s New York City. Only he could make a very basic domestic set-up like this so utterly compelling and tremendously captivating.

I adore the simplicity of this book and McInerney's witty 'see-it-tell-it' style that distinguishes him from other over-embellishing authors of this era.

A must read.
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on 30 October 2016
I bought the kindle version after reading bright lights big city, which I thought was genius for its depiction of the protagonist leaving a club having stayed out all night, and walking into the day feeling grimey and low-life. I felt like I knew the guy. So I had high hopes for this book! Similarly, I felt like I knew the characters in this novel. I live in the city and know (am I a yuppie?) some yuppies. I read spiritedly through for half the book, but then the characters started to feel very hollow and I felt like I was watching a soap opera. I could see the characters clearly from the outside, how they seemed to others, and how society placed them, but none of them seemed to have much of an inner life. They all seemed like cliches or robots or computer programs. I appreciate that this is how people sometimes seem in real life. But in a book you'd expect to get a sense of some other dimension of a person. Maybe we're nothing more, maybe i'm too optimistic. Anyway, I felt like I really knew these people which is a plus and shows McInerney has talent. But these people bored me. I got bored and annoyed and skimmed the final half of the book. If I wanted to watch a soap opera I'd just watch one on TV, it's less effort than reading. I am a slight literature snob though I admit it.
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on 4 March 2002
I think very carefully before I give a book five stars, but I found this story so captivating and well-written, that in my opinion, it deserves it!
The story follows the lives of a young married couple living in New York. It tells the highs and the lows of their life together, and their working lives, and documents the pressures they are under, and the effect is has on their marriage.
Like Bonfire of the Vanities, what appeals to me most about this book is that it shows us a whole cross-section of New York life, from the millionaires with their chic apartments and holiday homes, to the homeless in their shanty town in the Lower East Side. Manhattan as a backdrop is an essential part of the story.
The characters are believable and likeable, and although the story concentrates on two main people, the surrounding characters are well developed too.
Jay McInerney has excelled himself, producing a novel that is hard to put down. I highly recommend this book to both the casual reader, and anyone who has an interest in Sociology or Urban Geography.
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on 25 May 2002
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.*
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If, like me, you were young in the loadsamoney late 80s, then this book will bring back memories and confirm all your suscpicions about 'the beautiful people'.

This is not a quick read: it could not be done in one sitting by even the fastest speed readers. However, part of the pleasure of this book is the depth with which all the characters are drawn and the mounting tension as things reach breaking point in all aspects of life.
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on 10 May 2000
I've enjoyed all of McInerney's novels, but this is by far my favourite. Goes further than 'Bright Lights', 'Story of My Life' and the disappointing 'Model Behaviour' in presenting interesting characters with a depth that I found extremely involving. 'Brightness Falls' provides a very moving account of a relationship breakdown at an interesting point in history. Highly recommended.
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