Old characters can’t stay silent.
It has been 10 years since the last novel by Brat Pack author-turned-wine aficionado Jay McInerney. While fellow Brat Packers Bret Easton Ellis, Mark Lindquist and Tama Janowitz have been similarly silent in terms of fiction, one wonders what brings McInerney back has to be raised. The answer is simple enough: old characters can’t stay silent.
Bright, Precious Days returns to the lives of Russell and Corrine Calloway, featured in Brightness Falls (1992) and The Good Life (2006). They are fairly well-to-do New York socialites who have now pre-teen children, a handful of rich and absurd friends and teetering careers in publishing and the non-profit business. The Calloways feel the ever increasing pressures of mortality as they begin the plunge into their 50s. Set during the years leading up to Barrack Obama’s first presidential election, Corrine returns to an illicit affair she’d had in The Good Life, which again threatens to end her comfortable but admittedly boring life. Granted, Russell has never been 100% faithful, and all of their friends are sleeping with everyone but their spouses. It is Corrine’s love for the enigmatic Luke, her undeniable love for Russell and their children and Russell’s love for Corrine that is the true crux of the story.
The novel ping-pongs among characters’ points of view as they go through their own changes during a pivotal time in history. Whether we need another novel about the affairs of New Yorkers is a valid question, but that’s where McInterney’s talent lies. He puts a scathing critical eye on Russell and Corrine’s lifestyle yet still has empathy for them. The tension between absurdity and tragedy makes Bright, Precious Days work. McInerney delves into these characters’ souls, and offers readers every side of them by shifting the point of view in nearly every chapter from their friends to their children to outside observers. It seems like common sense that an author needs to develop his characters, but McInerney gives readers the crust of Russell and Corrine and lets everyone in between humanize them, make fools of them and destroy them, sometimes within the span of a single page.
McInerney’s prose approaches levels of lyrical perfection, almost to a fault. Passages sometimes veer into territory that any reader might consider almost hilariously overwritten. While in many instances this style is used to display the absurdities of modern, wealthy New Yorkers, bloated prose does in fact appear elsewhere. Regardless, McInerney’s style has evolved over his career and offers some profound delights to the reading experience of Bright, Precious Days.
Through the lies, deceptions, poor decisions and ultimately, ideas of love, fidelity and growing old, Bright, Precious Days succeeds in more ways than it fails. While it may be difficult to pick this novel up without having read its predecessors, its concepts and ideas—and tremendous character development—make it possible to enjoy without background knowledge. It’s not a quick read and it won’t offer any comfort, but it will give readers the idea that love can end, trust can be rebuilt over time and that people can change. McInerney’s return to fiction is by in large successful. Let’s hope he doesn’t make us wait another decade for another nuanced and beautiful novel