The Last Bachelor by Jay McInerney Bloomsbury, HK$169 Twenty-five years after making his name with Bright Lights, Big City (1984), a novel about cocaine-powered excesses in 1980s New York, Jay McInerney is still turning his pen to Manhattan high society. In The Last Bachelor, a collection of a dozen short stories, McInerney's subject is post-September 11 New York. These days McInerney's characters are more likely to reach for a bottle of antacids than chop up some Bolivian marching powder. Time has been kinder to his prose, which has relaxed and is surprisingly well suited to the shorter form. McInerney's material is bolder than of old and his characters more reflective; middle age, it seems, carries a conscience. September 11 features in several stories in the collection, all of which surround the theme of grief and love lost. McInerney is a writer more interested in punishment than redemption. He portrays September 11 as the day New York changed, but not indelibly. For him, the out-pouring of emotion that followed the attacks was a high watermark of human feeling, one against which the day-to-day coldness of the city's residents is frequently juxtaposed. So many of the book's characters share the same problem: an incapacity for feeling. So many of them also, it must be noted, bear an uncanny resemblance to McInerney himself. There is more than a whiff of self-loathing in these portrayals and the majority of the book's male characters are paunchy lechers nostalgic for their cool days. This is fuel for some caustic observations about masculinity, but they are not the sole attractions of this collection. McInerney's stories about modern relationships are told from a variety of perspectives and with rueful honesty. He demonstrates the complex relationship between his life and fiction in Penelope on the Panel, in which he revives the character of Alison Poole. She previously appeared in Story of My Life (1988) as a 'jaded, cocaine-addled, sexually voracious 20-year-old'. McInerney later admitted that she was based on ex-girlfriend Rielle Hunter - who rose to prominence last year when she was revealed to have been involved in a two-year affair with former US vice-presidential candidate John Edwards. McInerney brazenly chooses to fictionalise this episode, but acquits himself by employing a deft touch. The story sees Poole hiding in a mountain cabin from the tabloid media, at the instruction of her lover, Senator Tom Phipps. His portrait of Poole is compelling and rendered with surprising sympathy. The Last Bachelor is proof that McInerney is a writer with broadened horizons. In this collection he combines self, satire and regret to cast New York in a new light.