Bestselling author Jay McInerney returns to familiar territory and characters in his newest novel, Bright, Precious Days.
McInerney is New York — his body of work a tribute to a lifetime spent living and loving in the Big Apple. This time, he takes us to the post-9-11 era as the 2008 election is heating up and a major financial crisis is looming. When even a perfect New York couple’s bright, precious life starts to unravel, you know McInerney is at his best.
Corrine and Russell Calloway are that couple. College sweethearts, now parents of preteen twins, living in a loft in Tribeca, hosting and attending parties and charity events that mean something.
Despite a hallowed upbringing and every opportunity to profit from her education and connections, Corrine works at a nonprofit feeding New York’s hungry and poor. Oxford scholar and highly respected book editor and publisher Russell has an idealistic view of his city that puts him at odds with the changing world around him.
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This marriage seems solid until McInerney starts to peel away its layers.
Two of Jay McInerney’s novels, 1992’s “Brightness Falls” and 2006’s “The Good Life,” featured Russell and Corrine Calloway.
In the aftermath of 9-11, when Corrine left her lucrative job at Sotheby’s and started re-evaluating her priorities, she volunteered at a soup kitchen with a man named Luke. With similar backgrounds and similar fates, they have an ill-fated affair.
When Luke reappears in her life, it’s not easy for Corrine to forget what they shared. With her marriage to Russell in an emotional and physical lull, she finds it easier to connect with Luke than her own husband on many levels. And she’s flattered by Luke’s attention and willingness to make her happy at all costs.
She is looking for a turning point in her life away from the worries and stress. Luke is definitely offering her one.
Russell, on the other hand, is annoyingly set in his ways. His love of their lifestyle, although culturally and philosophically ideal, comes at a price. His publishing company is faltering and he can no longer lean on his reputation to score clients. He won’t even consider Corrine’s concerns about the fact that they are being priced out of their home and that their children’s education is at stake.
He instead continues to feed his foodie obsession and literary man-about-town persona. He revels in his role as expert chef, sommelier and host of their dinner parties with their perfect group of eclectic New York friends.
Finally, when he’s offered a book deal that seems too good to be true, will his decisions make — or break — him?
Jay McInerney wrote his breakout novel, “Bright Lights, Big City,” in 1984. Michael J. Fox and Kiefer Sutherland starred in the 1988 film.
McInerney chooses a great cast of characters with which to surround the Calloways. From actors and authors to financiers and socialites, the circle around Corrine and Russell is highly entertaining.
They’re cheating on each other, making secret business deals, doing drugs and drinking to excess, but also always looking at Corrine and Russell as that couple in the glass house. They are all complete contrasts to the tried-and-true Calloways.
No one sees Corrine and Russell as they really are, but that makes it easy for them to hide their truths in plain sight. Who would ever suspect either one of them of slipping up and making a real mistake?
A huge part of the novel is also a reflection of the changing times in not only New York, but globally. The political climate alone makes for a large part of the situations in which the characters find themselves.
Every benefit, party and dinner the Calloways attend allows McInerney an opportunity to relive the historic election drama with the characters’ dialogue. Not to mention the failing financial aspect of the late 2000s, which McInerney uses to force domestic changes for just about every character in the novel.
There is also a layer of New York historical art and literary namedropping throughout the novel, something it seems McInerney really enjoys. Also, make no mistake: McInerney is a wine lover who finds a way to pay homage to his passion in the book.
But it’s the human nature of relationships that’s at the heart of Bright, Precious Days. No one knows what it takes in a personal life to make someone truly happy. If financial gain drives some, personal integrity drives another. The means to an end can seem absolutely solitary, but marriage is not solitary and neither is life.
Thank goodness McInerney can peel away the layers of it so well.
Bright, Precious Days
☆☆☆ (out of five)
By Jay McInerney
Audio: Random House Audio, $45; narrated by actor Edoardo Ballerini.