The Good Life

McInerney, Jay

Published by Knopf, 2006
ISBN 10: 0375411402 / ISBN 13: 9780375411403
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Synopsis: 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.

Review: Amazon.com Exclusive: James Frey Reviews The Good Life

Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City was initially released in 1984. Twenty years later it is still an important book, and it has been an influence on a generation of writers, including me. McInerney's career since has been one of highs (Brightness Falls, The Last of the Savages) and lows (Ransom, The Story of my Life). He became a wine columnist, married and divorced, became a father to a pair of twins. In New York, he has remained a highly visible public figure, regularly seen at book parties and on the gossip page. Outside of New York, many people seem to have forgotten him. Often, when I bring up his later works, people respond with something along the lines of--I didn't know he wrote anything after Bright Lights.

The writer whose career McInernery's most resembles is that of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Both achieved huge, almost overwhelming early success. Both struggled to work their way out of the glare and expectations of that success. Both became known as much for their lifestyles as much as their books. While Fitzgerald wrote a masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, that McInerney, or almost anyone for that matter, has yet to match, McInernery has done something that may, over time, prove to be more interesting: he's lived through the downs of his life, continues to work, and is producing the kind of books we might have expected from Fitzgerald had he lived past the age of 44.

His latest book, The Good Life, is, in my opinion, his best book since Bright Lights, Big City. It tells the story of two Manhattan couples around the days of the events of September 11th. Luke and Sasha, wealthy Upper-East side socialites, and Russell and Corrine, a downtown literary editor and his wife, who were the subject of the earlier book Brightness Falls, are sleepwalking through their lives. They have parties and go to parties, live with spouses they're no longer sure they love, struggle with the correct way to raise their children. Luke is a banker who left his multi-million dollar job in search of something more fulfilling, while his wife is cheating on him with a former rival. Corrine is a stay-at-home mother whose husband is more concerned with work and other women than his family. Neither Luke nor Corrine see any way out of their marriages. Both end up working at a soup-kitchen near Ground Zero in the days immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Centers. They fall in love. They plan a future together. It's a simple story, a basic love story, and in the hands of a lesser writer, The Good Life could be awful. Instead, it's a very subtle, incredibly insightful, heartbreaking story about life in the New York, about marriage, about children and the choices they force us to make, about love and longing, about the search for meaning in our lives. It's a book about hope and how we find it, sustain and lose it, and it's a book about loss and how we deal with it.

It's also a deeply personal book, McInerney's most personal since Bright Lights, and it feels to me like I'm reading about variations of McInerney's own life. He, like Fitzgerald, is at his best when he's putting his own experiences into the lives of his characters, and I've never felt more of McInerney, or felt more vulnerability, which to me is a sign of strength in a writer, Unfortunately, Fitzgerald's life was unsustainable. He died drunk, penniless, alone, forgotten. McInernery could have followed his path, and it sometimes seemed like he would. Thankfully he didn't. People wondered what kind of writer Fitzgerald might have been had he lived. McInerney, his closest succesor, is starting to show us. --James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard

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Title: The Good Life
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 2006
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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