Unfinished Book Reports: Bright Lights, Big City – Jay McInerney

February 18, 2016

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Taking the 52 Book Challenge, I’ve committed to starting a new book every week this year….but I never said anything about finishing them. Below are my impressions (and predictions) after reading only 82 pages of Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.


What I Know (Pages 1 – 82)

I had only two things influencing my expectations of this novel before I finally sat down with it; 1) That McInerney was a friend of Bret Easton Ellis, and a member of the literary brat-pack and 2) That a quote from Raymond Carver was included on the cover. Had I taken a second or two to read the short review I would have known that I was iimgn for “A rambunctious, deadly funny novel that goes right for the mark- the human heart”. Instead, I spent the first chapter and-a-half confused by the out-and-out silliness of what I thought would be a bleak, nihilistic, dark night of the soul.
To be honest, it only occurred to me when I sat down to write this review that Bright Lights, Big City‘s protagonist is referred to as You, throughout the entire novel. I had seen the second-person narrative as this clever way of seeing the character unpack and process a life he feels disconnected from after a heartbreaking separation from his wife Amanda, and his own personal removal from All Things with an increasing physical dependency to a New York city nightlife that shows as little concern for your well being as you feel you have, regrettably, earned.


You have friends who actually care about you and speak the language of the inner self. You have avoided them of late. Your soul is as disheveled as your apartment, and until you can clean it up a little you don’t want to invite anyone inside.


You barely crawl out of bed each morning, arriving to work almost two hours late. Passively-aggressively punished for your tardiness, you spend twelve hours stressing over an impossible project, (Let’s just assume you work for The New Yorker) fact checking a disaster of an article for the magazine. You Fall into your apartment just before midnight. You know you should stay home and recover, get some sleep and become yourself again…but Tad calls, and he reminds you how impossible it is to find peace in an apartment haunted by our ex-wife.

You snort “Bolivian Marching Powder” in the bathroom of Odeon with Tad and the two girls he’s brought along.
You dance for hours.
You hit the floor so vigorously that you think you’ve invented a new dance and though everyone is starring, if you just stick to it long enough, it has a real chance of catching on.
You crawl home, dream about the Coma Baby that’s been all the tablet rage, and spend the following day in complete survival mode at your desk.
You fail to talk your way out of several dozen drinks with the office’s nostalgic alcoholic, coming face-to-face with the ghost of Amanda that has only begun to stalk your every move from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and into your home.


This is just how she looked at the end, the blank stare, the lips tight and reticent.
When did she become a mannequin?


Before leaving for Paris (right before leaving for Paris) Amanda provided the full-body cast used for this season’s high-fashion mannequins. You study her emotionless expression as it stares back at you in your dreams, and in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, searching for anything that might explain when she finally stopped loving you and become the cold, unreachable apparition before you now.



What I Assume Happens (Pages 83 – 182)

You have a breakdown at your desk, overwhelmed by the thought that you live in a world governed by something so elusive in your life, post-Amanda; Facts. Everyone is worried about you (and the mistakes you’re likely to make in your condition) and recommend taking an indefinite personal leave.

You go home.
And you watch television.

You watch television and go out with Tad and listen to him create a new You in the minds of strangers. He describes you as the kind of person who only deserves to have a woman leave him in a plane accident, or from a rare disease that has no cure. You’re wounded and frail, and in need of immediate sexual healing. You’re patient and cool as fuck, and clearly the victim in all this!  But you’re not.
You’re a piece of shit. And you know this because it’s the only caption that fits over the face of that fucking awful mannequin. Every time you see her, you see a different emotion, a different story. Every time you see Amanda, you see a different truth.

Your family hasn’t heard from you in months but when they come in to the city they only ask about Amanda. They’re the people at the sidelines waiting for the clock to run out, cheering for neither side to win but for everyone to get tired and go home. You tell them Amanda is breaking through in Paris. That she’ll be in Europe for at least another season and that you may have to leave to join her. You ask to be excused and exit the restaurant.

At the subway entrance you you pick up a croissant and a copy of [the magazine] for the ride home. You flip thru to page nine and read about the family responsible for the Coma Baby hoax.


How did we do?
What did we get right?
Where were we completely wrong?
Should we find time to finish the book?

Let us know in the comments below, and share your own thoughts on Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.

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