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Novel set largely in New York

10th October 2016

Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney – novel set largely in New York.

Bright, Precious Days is a novel that is quite spectacular on locale. From the residential lofts of TriBeCa, the hard-to-get-into restaurants across the city, the charity galas of the Upper East Side, life on the Upper West Side, and on to the newly gentrified brownstones of Harlem, New York from 2006 to 2008 (the year in which Lehman Brothers collapsed and Obama was first elected President) really comes to life. Add in summers with the beautiful people in the Hamptons, and the picture is complete. You really feel immersed in the city and its environs as you read the book.

novel set largely in new york

Sadly, though, a great setting for a somewhat less than perfect story. I don’t know why, but it felt perfectly harmless, quite entertaining, but not enthralling. The characters seem at times to be almost caricatures of themselves (as if McInerney were not taking them seriously). It is close on being a parody – but I am not sure it is intended to be. Bright, Precious Days is McInerney’s third book featuring Russell and Corrine Calloway – and the first I have read. The others are Brightness Falls (when they are in their late 20s) and The Good Life (in their 40s). I doubt, sadly, I will rush to catch up. Not that they’re likely to be bad books, but life is too short. There are other titles queuing up that I would probably rather read.

Russell and Corrine, and their friends and acquaintances (the top 1% of New Yorkers), inhabit a world of upper class marital infidelity fuelled by alcohol, money, and drugs – with the odd hooker, who becomes second wife, thrown in. Corrine (now in her 50s) has a steamy affair which involves sneaking off for weekends away – leaving her husband and teenage children behind. Russell (his business is that of an editor and publisher in a small company he part owns), gets ripped off by an author, and struggles to keep afloat and up with the high flying financiers he knows. The wife of Russell’s best friend works for Lehmans (and loses her job), and the whole city – or at least the part of it with which we are familiar – rejoices when Obama wins. They were momentous times, but the story lines are not so memorable.

Honestly, a very difficult book to know whether to endorse or not. I would guess probably ‘yes’ for the descriptions of the city – among the best and most evocative I have read. And probably ‘no’ if you are looking for a good standalone read – although it will certainly appeal to some. As I said, perfectly harmless… but no more.

Tony for the TripFiction team

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