Who is Jay Mcinerney?

Garry Crystal

Somewhere around the mid 1980s, you realized that you were spending too much time in bars and clubs and not enough time writing. You were reading too many books by authors like Brett Easton Ellis and Jay Mcinerney, and they were having a profound effect on your psyche. You found yourself thinking in the second person, just as the narrator had talked in Mcinerney's second but most famous novel, Bright Lights, Big City, published in 1984.

Some critics compared Jay Mcinerney's writing voice to F. Scott Fitzgerald's.
Some critics compared Jay Mcinerney's writing voice to F. Scott Fitzgerald's.

In the eighties, you were either a Brett Easton Ellis fan or a Jay Mcinerney fan. You could like both writers, but most people had a preference between the two. The press linked these two writers together, as they had a few factors in common. They were roughly the same age, both wrote about drugs and sexual relationships and they seemed to be more famous for their social lives than their writing.

Jay Mcinerney is known for writing about New York.
Jay Mcinerney is known for writing about New York.

While Ellis wrote Los Angeles morality tales peopled by narcissistic characters, Jay Mcinerney wrote about New York angst among the creative and the affluent. Bright Lights, Big City turned Jay Mcinerney into a seemingly overnight success. Many critics found his voice to be reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald or J. D. Salinger.

Bright Lights tells the tale of a would be writer adrift in New York after his model wife leaves him. He quickly succumbs to the seedier side of New York life. Drink, drugs and shallow friends all lay claim to the soul of the main character. It eventually turns into a redemption story in which the narrator realizes the true value of his life.

Bright Lights, Big City was turned into a not too well received film starring Michael J. Fox as the lead character. Jay Mcinerney continued to write books about New York life from a seemingly personal viewpoint. Story of My Life, published in 1989, played up the New York wannabe actress adrift in a world of drink, drugs and meaningless sex. Sound familiar? Critics of Jay Mcinerney say that although he has an honest voice, his stories may be too personal. It takes a brave writer to work out his own mental problems within the pages of a book.

Brightness Falls and The Last of the Savages, published in 1993 and 1997 respectively, were altogether more complex than Mcinerney's previous novels. They still delved into the lives and relationships of the New York yuppie, but the characters were more developed and multi-layered. Jay Mcinerney seemed to be using his own personal relationships and experiences to create a world that readers would envy but be glad they weren’t part of.

Mcinerney’s latest novel, The Good Life, published in 2006, caught up with the characters from his previous novel Brightness Falls. The book dealt with life and relationships in New York in the aftermath of the Twin Towers attack. While the book was considered his comeback novel, media attention seemed to focus more on Mcinerney's personal life than his writing. None of the novels that Jay Mcinerney has written seem to have captured the times as accurately as Bright Lights, Big City did, but by using his own experiences and his original voice, Mcinerney manages to build on the theme of social relationships as defined by the society that we inhabit.

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