Book review: Jay McInerney’s Bright, Precious Days is a guilty pleasure
Despite its clichéd language, predictable plot and soap opera feel, McInerney’s withering assaults on the tribes of Manhattan make this an irresistible read
Bright, Precious Days
by Jay McInerney
Jay McInerney’s latest book, Bright, Precious Days, picks up the story of Russell and Corrine Calloway, whose great love affair and marriage was the subject of two earlier novels. Now they’re in their 50s, their union intact but not without a few strains.
Russell, an independent publisher, is dealing with two problematic writers and is on the verge of going broke. Corrine, who gave up a well-paying job to raise their twins, is itching to move out of their rented Tribeca loft to the suburbs for more space and better schools.
To complicate matters, her fabulously wealthy former lover shows up unexpectedly in a last-ditch bid to woo her away from Russell, and their kids are reeling from the discovery that they were conceived with the help of an egg donor.
Sound a little soapy? Well, it is, with some clichéd language and predictable plot twists. But it’s also irresistible, brimming with McInerney’s tour de force takedowns of tribal Manhattan, from the Upper East Side ladies who lunch to the latest crop of reckless young bohemians, as eager to make their mark as Russell, Corrine and their pals had been in their youth.
These days, though, all their women friends have eating disorders, while the men take Cialis, especially when they’re planning to patronise their favourite high-end brothel. By contrast, Russell and Corrine have struggled to stay true to their principles, though Corrine wonders at times if getting an eye-lift would constitute selling out.
Here she is, reflecting on their marriage: “Young idealists, Ivy League sweethearts, they’d followed their best instincts and based their lives on the premise that money couldn’t buy happiness, learning only gradually the many varieties of unhappiness it might have staved off. Russell liked to divide humanity into two opposing teams: Art and Love versus Power and Money. It was kind of corny, but she was proud that he believed it, and of his loyalty to his team. For better and for worse, it was her team, too.”
Ever since his breakout novel, Bright Lights, Big City, McInerney has been fascinated by the collision of fame, fortune and talent on the “skinny, wealthy island” of Manhattan. Bright, Precious Days continues that exploration, with an engaging cast of characters acutely aware of how quickly their time is passing. Reading it is a guilty pleasure.