Book #03

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

The novel follows a young man, living in Manhattan as if he owned it, through nightclubs, fashion shows, editorial offices, and loft parties as he attempts to outstrip mortality and the recurring approach of dawn. With nothing but goodwill, controlled substances, and wit to sustain him in this anti-quest, he runs until he reaches his reckoning point, where he is forced to acknowledge loss and, possibly, to rediscover his better instincts. 

McInerney plunges us into mid-eighties New York with a pretty unlikeable protagonist, a plethora of drugs, and some unresolved trauma. Our nameless narrator had it all at one point - an impressive job, a model wife, an enviable lifestyle - only for it all to burn around his ears as he loses each of these things and embarks on a life of abandon, of substances, and succumbs to the seductive bright lights of the city

His use of second personal narration was an immersive surprise to me. It helps to both engage us into the scene, but also to cloud any emotions the narrator doesn’t want slipping out - something both first and third person narratives would struggle to achieve so effectively.

The masterstroke here was revealing the narrator’s true sorrow during his finale. Until then, we see him as a vain and nihilistic young upstart, just looking for the next new thing to make him feel something. We spend the entirety of the novel skating on the surface of his emotions, and only when the curtain is truly drawn back, do we see the true reasons behind his behaviour.

A wonderful story of running, of blocking out our painful thoughts, of futilely attempting to delay the inevitable.