Bright Lights, Big City; Model Behavior; Story of My Life
by Jay McInerney
Vintage, 1984; Vintage, 1998; Grove, 1988
buy from Powell’s
1. This winter I read/reread McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City and Model Behavior, and because of (sorry, Jay) certain undeniable narrative overlaps I decided to review them and Story of My Life together to shake loose some of the cocaine-infused cobwebs and move forward.
2. A. The first is written about a young man working at a highbrow New York magazine (McInerney himself worked for awhile at The New Yorker after being educated by such legends as Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff at Syracuse) and is one of the first novels brought up when discussions of ‘2nd person narrative’ take place.
B. The second is a bit of a mess. Connor Mcknight is a journalist working at a NY magazine called Ciao Bella! that interviews starlets and although it features moments of hilarity or depth the book itself is marred by a stylistic indecision; perspective shifts (from 1st, to 2nd and 3rd person) abound and although it seems an interesting quirk it seems more likely that this ‘novel’ was crudely assembled by a halfway-decent craftsman of the drug story. I’m hard on it because I’ve believed in McInerney’s work while he’s been left in Bret Easton Ellis’s wake and his first book absolutely saves my life and reinvigorates my feelings for the personal narrative several times a year.
C. This book is a fucking work of art. Written in the perspective of a ditzy NYC twenty-something female named Allison Poole (a character based on Rielle Hunter, John Edward’s notorious lover and a recurring character in Bret Easton Ellis’s novels as well), it’s a distinct achievement regarding voice. Several of Carver’s stories are told in a female voice, and are difficult to believe even in a much shorter landscape, yet McInerney pulls off the lilts and preoccupations of a confused city girl with something like a magical control over language.
3. I once had a brief exchange with a person about my feelings toward The Strokes, to paraphrase: “They’re sort of a one-trick pony,” I said. “Yes, their one trick is being The Strokes, and they do it fucking well,” he replied; and although a part of me feels like taking a bite out of his cheek for a second even mentioning this again because I’m an idiot with issues, I feel it’s transferable to the aforementioned ‘overlaps’ throughout McInerney’s career and these books. He’s a New York writer, or at the very least an East Coast writer, and these are the sort of novels you pick up when you want to have fun, laugh a bit, and feel a slight inclination toward literary seriousness. They are good, they are fucking good, but something about them seems too damned similar to call one much better than the other without biographical considerations.
4. His first novel is obviously worthwhile and impressive because it’s his first book and was published in his twenties. It shows a sincere command not only over storytelling and plotting but also style and certain choices one can make in that realm of the ‘new literature’ then burgeoning in the states. I like the 2nd person here, which might be enough for most readers to decide it’s a decent book. 2nd person is difficult, you’re bound to come to the same tough decisions of identification with the characters and it’s because of the setting (NYC high society, drugs, literature, models, etc., yet also squalor) that McInerney’s ‘you,’ is so transferable. These are observatory environments, situations where you don’t necessarily need thick paragraphs a la John Irving or Stephen King to conjure up a scene in the typical sense; and when the protagonist finds himself (yourself) trapped in the calamity of the city as it was in the 80s the frenetic energy of ‘your’ story being told needn’t be hammered down your throat, which may lend itself to the shortness of both the chapters, and the novel itself.
5. As I said, Model Behavior is the least impressive. Like his Brat Pack fellow Ellis’s ‘The Informers,’ it strikes me as something probably assembled from youthful ramblings and attempts at literary savvy. The best parts of this book are those moments when 3rd and 2nd person fuck off for stretches and 1st person—a perspective that, I think, makes sense for your typical frantic ‘city/drug’ novel—is at the helm. Fans of this sort of minimalistic, energetic literature will absolutely enjoy what’s happening here, but don’t expect to be floored, and don’t use this as your gauge of McInerney’s potential because, frankly, as far as I can tell it’s his worst book.
6. Story of My Life is fucking funny, and the kind of fucking funny book that people who read and enjoy serious, even somber, literature can probably enjoy. It’s funny because the female voice is nearly flawless and imagining McInerney with his thick eyebrows and strict yuppie demeanor geeking out on this early on is simply refreshing. I’d call the voice something on the order of ‘valley girl’ and I think that’s accurate, however when I gave the book to my father to swap notes at one point he interpreted it more like Tony Soprano.
7. I took a shower later that night and laughed for a really long time about my dad’s mistake. Dads make mistakes a lot, I think, unless they’re not the sort of fathers you really perceive as fathers and then are they even dads?
9. I’m going to now refer to Bright Lights Big City and Story of My Life as ‘the bread’ and Model Behavior as ‘whatever’ for convenience because for the most part I’m done insulting that book.
10. I like to get lost in the bread, they are the sorts of books that allow for that sort of thing. The first piece—his first book, Bright Lights—wraps you up like the first reading of Catcher in the Rye and lets all the angsty shit in your life fall by the wayside. READ MORE >
January 22nd, 2013 / 9:09 am