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The Good Life: A Novelby Jay McInerney
"The Good Life is lit by McInerney's satirical sparks: he enjoys catching the inanities of the over-moneyed....In some passages, however, his lightness of touch deserts him, and the weight seems to come less from the grim losses of 9/11 than from the burdens of a society he can't quite rise above....If one strain in American writing in the 1980s was that of the 'KMart realists' (such as Bobbie Ann Mason and Ann Beattie), the 'Brat pack' writers, McInerney and his coeval Bret Easton Ellis, seem to have forged, by contrast, a Dolce & Gabbana realism: this novel's pages are heavy with wads of undigested contemporaneity in the form of brand names, Hamptons locations, celebrity chefs, chic restaurants — social references that will resonate among a select readership and remain, for others, flat on the page." Sylvia Brownrigg, The Times Literary Supplement (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)
Synopses & Reviews
Hailed by Newsweek as "a superb and humane social critic" with, according to the Wall Street Journal, "all the true instincts of a major novelist," Jay McInerney unveils a story of love, family, conflicting desires, and catastrophic loss in his most powerfully searing work thus far.
Clinging to a semiprecarious existence in TriBeCa, Corrine and Russell Calloway have survived a separation and are thoroughly wonderstruck by young twins whose provenance is nothing less than miraculous, even as they contend with the faded promise of a marriage tinged with suspicion and deceit. Meanwhile, several miles uptown and perched near the top of the Upper East Side's social register, Luke McGavock has postponed his accumulation of wealth in an attempt to recover the sense of purpose now lacking in a life that often gives him pause — especially with regard to his teenage daughter, whose wanton extravagance bears a horrifying resemblance to her mother's. But on a September morning, brightness falls horribly from the sky, and people worlds apart suddenly find themselves working side by side at the devastated site, feeling lost anywhere else, yet battered still by memory and regret, by fresh disappointment and unimaginable shock. What happens, or should happen, when life stops us in our tracks, or our own choices do? What if both secrets and secret needs, long guarded steadfastly, are finally revealed? What is the good life?
Posed with astonishing understanding and compassion, these questions power a novel rich with characters and events, both comic and harrowing, revelatory about not only New York after the attacks but also the toll taken on those lucky enough to have survived them. Wise, surprising, and, ultimately, heart-stoppingly redemptive, The Good Life captures lives that allow us to see — through personal, social, and moral complexity — more clearly into the heart of things.
"Jay McInerney's new novel seems from the outside to be composed of the most disheartening elements: The Good Life is about a group of privileged New Yorkers who are led to reassess their lives — and become in many ways better people — in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The plot premise seems so pat and topical that the reader is likely to take fright. But there is mercifully no need. It is a tribute to McInerney's many talents that he can wrest from his schematic structure a novel that is both tender and entertaining.As often in McInerney's world, we find ourselves among a wealthy and ambitious elite, whom the novelist seems both intensely drawn to and repelled by. The focus is on two New York couples: Russell (publishing) and Corinne (screen writing), Luke (ex-banker) and Sasha (charity). McInerney brings an amusingly bitchy eye to bear on their lifestyles (for example, a character's double-height living room is described as appearing "to be holding its breath, as if awaiting a crew from Architectural Digest"). He keeps track of their snobbery and their social one-upmanship with all the attention to detail of a seasoned society columnist. New York resembles a latter-day version of imperial Rome in its last years, a once-noble civilization now shorn of its moral compass. In McInerney's New York, all citizens appear to take drugs, show off at charity balls, palm their children off on badly paid nannies and have sex with people other than their spouses. No one seems altruistic, high-minded, innocent — or plain nice. Then the planes strike the towers and two of the characters, Corinne and Luke, start to reappraise their faltering marriages. It becomes clear that the focus of McInerney's concern is not terrorism or politics but love: how relationships can disintegrate through children and routine, the tension between love and sex and what can keep a union alive. This is a novel about shallowness and what might replace it. For all of McInerney's surface cynicism, he's a writer — like Martin Amis perhaps — with whom, beneath the surface, there is a surprisingly simple, some might say naïve, ideal of goodness at work. Whenever this most cynical of writers has to reveal his allegiances, rather than his hatreds, they turn out to be remarkably homespun. The conclusion of the novel is undramatic. The characters may be searching for the Good Life, but their quest doesn't end up with the discovery of a holy grail. McInerney is describing a relentlessly secular world, where there are no easy sources of redemption. The characters end up finding meaning in those two stalwarts of the bourgeois worldview: romantic love and the love of children. This story is a simple one, but McInerney delivers it with grace and wit. He does what a good novelist should: he takes an abstract idea and gives it life. (Jan.) Alain de Botton is the author of On Love, Status Anxiety, and How Proust Can Change Your Life, among other books. Alain de Botton, Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"McInerney probes the human response to tragedy, and the complexity of human desire, with both precision and empathy....There have been a number of 9/11 novels lately....This one is essential." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Honestly, it seems McInerney doesn't know what to do with this material....Perhaps the tragedy feels so sacrosanct, so enormous, that he has chosen not to apply the skills that are closest to his true talent, and what's left is this odd, stilted, earnestly tremulous book." Dan Chaon, The Washington Post
"The results read like a shotgun marriage between social anthropology and soap opera. The title suggests a number of questions...that the author fails to resolve." Kirkus Reviews
"[McInerney's] New York takes on a life of its own, becoming as much a character as any of the two-legged kind....Inveterate Gothamites will especially appreciate this love story between kindred spirits and between city dwellers and their wounded mecca." Library Journal
"McInerney spurns sanctimony as he beholds tragedies large and small....The Good Life is a tinselly but thoughtful elegy for a gilded age smashed to dust." Elle
"[A] bizarre mix of the genuinely moving and the trashily facile, the psychologically astute and the ridiculously clichéd; part of it aspires to create an F. Scott Fitzgerald-esque romance, and part sags to the level of a Judith Krantz tale about the rich and overprivileged..." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Of all the repellent interpretations of 9/11, Jay McInerney builds his new novel, The Good Life...around one of the slimiest: Sept. 11 as soul-cleansing for privileged New Yorkers. (Grade: C-)" Entertainment Weekly
"McInerney perfectly captures the sensation of getting hit in the solar plexis and living through it....The Good Life has more substance than McInerney's usual stories of sex and sin among New York City yuppies..." Denver Post
Rich with characters and events both comic and harrowing, this novel reveals a time and place, and the lives impacted by the events that occurred on 9/11 in New York--people battered by memory, regret, and unimaginable shock and yet determined to discover what the good life truly is.
About the Author
Jay McInerney is the author of Bright Lights, Big City (which he adapted for the screen), Ransom, Story of My Life, Brightness Falls, The Last of the Savages, and Model Behavior. He is also the author of Bacchus & Me, Adventures in the Wine Cellar, a collection of musings on wine, and writes a wine column for House & Garden magazine. He lives in New York City.
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