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Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

May 25, 2010 | No Comments


Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney (1984) was one of those novels I always felt I should’ve read already, and now (whew) I have. I breezed through it, which pays credit to McInerney’s style. The nameless narrator was less nasty and selfish than I’d anticipated, I’d expected more sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. He came across like a grown-up, disillusioned Ferris Bueller taking a week off. The other Ferris, namely Joshua, may have been mildly influenced by it, though he wrote in the collective pronoun rather than in second, in his deeper, more workplace-oriented satire, Then We Came to the End. (Scroll down to see review in Urbanite from July 07).

I should have read Bright Lights, Big City in the late 80s when I was in my twenties, and cared too much about what others thought about me and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I enjoyed it, but as a creative work it is too emblematic of a particular time and a particular time of life without the transcendence to universality (more nostalgic rather than relevant) though my edition has the Twin Towers on the cover, which loomed over the narrative like a scythe. (There is also an eerie passing reference to a man who tight-rope walked between the Towers, I assume about Phillipe Petite in 1974, see James Marsh’s wonderful documentary Man on Wire). My favorite sections describe the magazine for whom the unnamed narrator works – a spoof, I assume, of The New Yorker, and I felt particular empathy for the ‘ghost’ who’d been writing the same article for seven years. My main reservation is one of tone; the touching revelations of its third act (which sometimes bleed over the line into sentimentality) jar unconvincingly with the hard-boiled antics of its first and second. “Aaw, your mum died,” the reader is meant to think, “so that’s why you’re acting like a dipstick, and here was me thinking it’s just because you’re in your twenties and we all act like a dipsticks in our twenties.” Finally, if snorting warm dough is that transformational I’ll put one of those bread-making machines on my wish list now (a nice ‘mumsy’ sort of gift), or was the last paragraph of the novel meant to be a pun?

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