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Bright Lights, Big City

Bright Lights, Big City - Jay McInerney
“It seems to be your duty to go through the motions. You keep thinking that with practice you will eventually get the knack of enjoying superficial encounters, that you will stop looking for the universal solvent, stop grieving. You will learn to compound happiness out of small increments of mindless pleasure.”

A week in the life of a man that seems to have everything, yet ultimately has nothing at all. In a city where you must have the ability to say no, a city that can bring a person the most excitement on one night and the next night make you feel like the loneliest person in the world. For our narrator who often buys solicited items from street vendors like Rolox watches, baby ferret’s, and umbrella’s on a day without a cloud in the sky; I guess you could surmise that New York and its renowned club scene during the eighties would not be the best environment for a guy like him.

A man living in Manhattan going from his job to his friend’s house, trendy bar to underground bar to crazy after-hours club, to greasy diners; rinse and repeat day after day. What’s great about all these places is that everyone seemed to know his name, and what was even better was that they also knew what he needed at any given moment. Forever in a date with the night, he struggles with the break of dawn as he make his way to work at a prestigious magazine in the Department of Factual Verification. He challenges his dictatorial boss Clara Tillinghast by showing up arrogantly at 10:00 A.M. to Clara’s 10:10 arrival, taking extended lunch breaks, as well as significantly underperforming on his editorials and fact checks. Our man is also under some crazy delusion that he can switch departments to increase morale, but what he fails to realize is that with one more screw up he will be sans job (it’s French, he’ll understand, his resume says so). In short he has no leg to stand on. The colleagues that he does have at work, he treats like shit, it truly is a wonder how he even has this job at all.

“She doesn't ask you to sit, so you do. This is shaping up even worse than you anticipated. Still, you feel a measure of detachment, as if you had suffered everything already and this were just a flashback. You wish that you had paid more attention when a woman you met at Heartbreak told you about Zen meditation. Think of all of this as an illusion. She can’t hurt you. Nothing can hurt the samurai who enters combat resolved to die.”

The man with no name hasn't even had to work for it, everything has fallen right into his lap and he still doesn't appreciate it; taking it all for granted. He works for a glossy and widely-respected magazine that grants him an invitation to the city’s best parties and all the perks that come with it. Like adequate compensation to spend frivolously with little fixed and variable expenses, rich friends in the cut with connections in all the right places to fulfill all of his chemical imbalances, bountiful supply of woman with a wide-range of peculiarities in a city that never sleeps. What more could a single twenty-something year old man ask for? And he literally and figuratively goes and blows it all away.

I am not into the whole grandstanding that comes with the whole “liking” or “disliking” of characters dictating your feelings with respect to a book. I believe it says more about the reader than it does the author, so let’s get that out of the way. So now that the author decided on this style I will indulge myself in a little self-analysis as I put on my best Brooks Brothers suit, Oxford shirt, and ill-fitting Penny loafers and take a walk through Manhattan. From the second person narrative you get the feeling that the narrator is trying to coerce you into a state of empathy for the protagonist. The feeling that a life can be turned on end after a divorce you should have seen coming doesn't jive for me. The fact that you’re still chasing that illusive dream, calling yourself a sexually abandoned ex-husband, and denying yourself the pleasure of moving on makes me pity you. The fact that you squander a life with a good career that offers a potentiality for advancement and a social life that will provide great social experiences makes me a little jealous and I dislike you at this moment. What I like is that at times you are aware, at times conciliatory even when familial roles say otherwise, you become introspective realizing that the root of your problems go deeper than you really think. Throughout the book the narrator is in a constant struggle between the impulsivity brought on by addiction and revenge, while desiring a resolution for a better, more typical life. It isn't until he is forced to address the past, instead of running away from it that will enable him to better grasp on to the present, avoid its temptations, and effectively plan for the future. I liked this story and being that it was written in 1984 I believe it was better received at the time, but now I can’t help but feel that I have read this story before. What differentiates it from many of the others is the style, and how it works and how it will keep me coming back for another round with Mr.McInerney.

“Facts are simple and facts are straight.
Facts are lazy and facts are late.
Facts all come with points of view.
Facts don’t do what you want them to.