Review of Brightness Falls by Jay McInerney….
Jay McInerney is one of the great American authors of the past forty years, his characterisation of 1980s New York and its inhabitants lusting for money, power, sex and real estate captured the imagination and propelled him to cult status. Like Don DeLillo, his prose is effortlessly realistic, the hedonism of upper class New Yorkers in that most hedonistic of decades perfectly captured by a man who lived and breathed it. From cocaine addict to wine connoisseur and four marriages to his belt, his life experiences and the social ladders climbed give his palette the unique colours to paint his big city landscapes. For those old enough to remember the decade McInerney extracts knowing nods, wry smiles and pre-Covid sentimentalities. But where there was light McInerney found dark and the excesses of1980s America chewed up and spat out anyone who embraced its temptations.
Brightness Falls is the first volume of three based on the lives of one aspiring young power couple, Russell and Corrine Calloway. College sweethearts, they host and grace literary parties, flirting with stockbrokers, fashion models, publishers and any other coke-snorting yuppy on the way up the capitalist escalator. The Calloway’s, to their friends and peers seem the perfect couple but behind the façade the pair are struggling with their differing trajectories, Corrine wants the fruits of success that her pay check delivers but she also yearns for children whilst Russell, with no funds to his name is determined to buy out the publishing house he works for. McInerney crafts the story with compelling characters and dialogue, Russell’s ambitions read like a car crash in slow motion with an increasingly marginalised Corrine struggling to cope. Theirs is a relationship lived a million times over but the author’s skill in making common subjects such as depression, drug, sex and alcohol addiction feel unique to this story alone.
If you are old enough to remember the 1980s with its financial highs and lows, the impact of AIDS and all of the associated excess that came with it then this book will undoubtedly raise the occasional smile or nod of recognition. If, on the other hand, you are too young then this is a fine introduction to an unforgettable decade.
Categories: The Reading Room