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[263] The Good Life – Jay McInerney

” Loving isn’t the same as wanting, Luke. And it’s certainly not the same as having. It’s not about desire and self-fulfillment. In the end, it’s about wanting what’s best for the other person. It’s about giving and even, sometimes, letting go. Sometimes I think love is more about renunciation than possession. ” [327]

The story of The Good Life begins in just any given summer, as families prepare their body and mind for the routines of school and work dictated by fall’s arrival. As soon as McInerney subtly drops hints about a meeting at Windows of the World, readers are immediately alarmed, not without a sense of dread, that the author is slowly unveiling a story of love, family, conflicting desires, and inevitable loss against the backdrop of one notorious autumn–That Autumn, as a section is titled.

Corrine Calloway leaves her job as a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office to bear children. She’s married to Russell, a book editor who prides on throwing dinner feats with prominent names on his guest list. Despite their exemplary domesticity, Corrine reels in guilt for not doing enough as a mother—the truth being revealed by a drunken female guest at Calloways’ dinner party who denounces Corrine’s transplanted use of her younger sister’s eggs.

Corrine’s real guilt is not that she’s not doing enough as a mother—Sometimes, I think I’m guilty of terrible . . . overreaching, the way I wrestled my children into existence . . . Refusing to accept the limits of nature, my own biological limitations. [254]

Uptown and up market, Luke McGavock spends his day mooning about the search of his soul. The former investment banker who practically restructured the debt of Argentina does not miss the glitz of high life. He fumes while watching his wife, Sasha, the cynosure of the Manhattan paparazzi, boogie with her reputed lover at a benefit. Since private events have always eclipsed the realm of his marriage, Luke winds up working the night shift with Corrine at a soup kitchen, providing food and coffee to works laboring at ground zero.

It wasn’t as if he could compare the course of his feelings to a hypothetical narrative in which planes hadn’t crashed and towers hadn’t fallen, in which they weren’t both, like the rest of the population, in a state of shock. In that narrative, they never would have met… [166]

Despite the signs that The Good Life will attract as a novel centered on the destruction of the twin towers, it’s central concerns are only tangentially related to the actual events of 9/11. The Good Life is practically a love story of two people, who both have a battered marriage, reveal to one another secrets they’d previously hidden from the world for fear of appearing unlovable. Their mutual confessions of inadequacy and guilt have drawn them together—consumed in an affair that breaches their fortressed soul and most importantly, enlightens them to the true meaning of love.

364 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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12 Responses

  1. I’ve never read Jay McInerney, but this sounds like a great read. I’ll keep an eye out for it, and will be sure to check it out. Thank you!

    And that quote is wonderful, the one at the beginning of this post.

    • It’s one of the most powerful quote I have encountered in readings for a long while. It totally registers in my mind. This is a great book, defining what contemporary fiction is.

  2. I’ve never read any of McInerney’s works but this one sounds good. I like books that delve into human relationships and emotions.

    • It’s a tapestry of human emotions, with layers and terrains. I admire how McInerney can downplay such tragedy and make it the background of people who explore the meaning of their life, their marriage, and being ennobled by the loss.

  3. That’s quite a memorable quote.

  4. I have this book on my shelf – now I will definitely read it soon! Thanks for the review!

  5. […] [263] The Good Life – Jay McInerney […]

  6. Corrine and Russell are the young couple from Brightness Falls, a novel I adored. I found this one more labored, as if the author had already used up all his early promise.

    • That’s good to know about Brightness Falls, which I found in North Hollywood over the weekend for $1.50! I didn’t know about the predecessor until I finished The Good Life. 🙂

  7. […] crash in 1987 would literally come crashing down in 2001.) Brightness Falls preludes its sequel, The Good Life by 14 years in time setting. The novel revolves around Russell and Corrine Calloway and chronicles […]

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