Monday, October 9, 2017

Bright, Precious Days of the Shallow

The first book I read by Jay McInerney was Bright Lights, Big City - a young man who succumbs to drugs and the fast life in New York City. I knew that McInerney was part of a literary group known as the Brat Pack (Bret Easton Ellis and Tama Janowitz are members of the group). The books written by these authors delved into the world of wealthy young professionals or artists who lived life on the edge with much drinking, drugs, and other "afterschool activities". It had been years since reading Bright Lights, Big City, yet when I learned that McInerney would be at Square Books, I knew I had to meet him. He read his passage from his new book, Bright, Precious Days, with a tone that had done and seen much and had the scars to prove it. The book signing was a memorable experience.

Let me start by saying this - I truly disliked almost every character in this novel. And yet, my eyes were glued to the pages, wanting to know more about these people and their lives. McInerney wrote this book as though they were friends of his and that the scenes were just times when they all hung out and "lived life". He wrote them with such familiarity that I almost want to email him and ask if these characters were based on real people. Bright, Precious Days is the third novel involving Russell and Corrine Calloway, the darling couple in New York and the center of their friends' circle. Russell works in the publishing industry while Corrine works in the world of non profits. They have two children and they are very typical in acting their ages. I confess that I have not read the previous two novels, yet with this one, it's pretty easy to learn about their history. The Calloways had a friend, their third wheel named Jeff - a genius who died much too soon. Russell and Corrine were, and in some case still are, the living embodiment of the 1980s. Drugs were looser then, people had sex with no shame or regrets, and life was meant to be lived by the fucking seat of your pants. It was a time to show the world what you were made of and damn them if they didn't understand you. Now that the Calloways and their friends are older, they face new challenges with a spark that is no less bright yet different.

I found myself wondering just how these people could keep up with their lives. People cheating on their spouses, alcohol that never seems to stop flowing, backstabbing each other with smiles, and ways to keep yourself looking emaciated because how else will you EVER fit into that Chanel dress you purchase for the latest benefit for some cause you couldn't care less about? Like I said earlier, I only liked one character - Russell - and the like I have for him was more out of pity than anything else. He sticks to his values and morals when it comes to publishing, and yet that blows up in his face. He loves his wife yet has no idea that an old flame re-enters her life. He sees his friends wandering off on their self destructive paths with a mixture of pity and sad familiarity. Yet, in the end, the Calloways remain the epicenter of the world they have created, if not for their friends' sake then definitely for themselves.

I absolutely loved this book - call it a guilty pleasure of mine. I love reading about characters who continue to spiral downwards all in the name of their values or the values held high by their friends. And when they seek some sort of redemption, you cheer them on and hope like hell that they make it "this time". When I finished it, I was sad to see this version of New York leave. Reading this book was anything but a bright, precious day.


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