June 07, 2020
Sacred Reads: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Following the publication of Bright Lights, Big City in 1984, Jay McInerney was hailed as the voice of a generation. It would be a bit of a stretch to suggest, as some did at the time, that McInerney is the natural successor to F Scott Fitzgerald but McInerney admires and has written about Fitzgerald widely and his work is similar insomuch that he also writes about rich young people aimlessly drifting from bar to nightclub to party - and so it goes. Bright Lights, Big City clearly takes some cues from The Beautiful and Damned - although, of course, times have changed and, unlike Anthony Patch from the Beautiful and Damned, who has a private income, Jamie, the protagonist of Bright Lights, is expected to turn up for his job as a fact checker for a prestigious magazine. However, work is a secondary concern and in both novels the characters wander throughout Manhattan (Fitzgerald and McInerney both namecheck actual venues from the appropriate decades - with hindsight, McInerney's reference to the World Trade Centre is very poignant) from early evening until dawn, in an almost somnambulist state - dimly aware of the inevitable crash but far too wasted to realise how close it actually is. A three martini lunch with a gin-soaked editor from his magazine precipitates Jamie's downfall - but there is a smattering of hope on the last couple of pages. A great book about New York City - if something of a period piece.