THE GOOD LIFE by Jay McInerney (Knopf), 357 pages, $35 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Like his obvious influence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jay McInerney has always been an astute social chronicler. His previous novels, one about the coke-filled club scene of the early 80s, for example, and another about the post-boom stock market mini-crash, seem almost trivial next to the loaded setting of The Good Life: the day before and the months after September 11, 2001.
The story centres on two contrasting couples, familiar from some of McInerney's earlier fiction. Gracefully aging hipsters Corrine and Russell Calloway are raising their twin kids in TriBeCa, while socialites Luke and Sasha McGavock barely see their troubled teenager daughter in their Upper East Side co-op.
When Corrine and Luke, who have both taken themselves out of the rat race to pursue more meaningful work, meet in the debris-filled aftermath of the attacks and consequently start working in a relief-effort soup kitchen, they find an emotional bond that's lacking at home. What to do?
Like John Cheever, quoted in one of the book's epigraphs, McInerney dissects encroaching middle age and marital infidelity with special care. He brings a whiff of glamour to adultery, but he knows that it exacts a price. His people have made choices and, when faced with catastrophe, must examine whether they're the right ones.
Written in lyrical, almost elegiac prose, the book begins well, covers the WTC disasters with understated tact and also delivers some rich satire about Manhattan's pretty people. The denouement is exquisite.
But there's something missing at the book's heart. McInerney is a good satirist, but I'm not sure he's a fine portraitist. We know where his characters went to school, what they wear and who they know, but they never jump off the page. This is fine for a pop novel like Bright Lights, Big City, but here he's trying for something more and doesn't quite succeed.
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McInerney reads as part of the Harbourfront Reading Series Wednesday (February 15). See Book Readings.