Top positive review
The Dimming of Fortunes
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.