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[270] Brightness Falls – Jay McInerney

” On Tuesday, October 20, 1987, a grey stretch Mercedes rolled slowly down Fifth Avenue . . . Although none of the men was intimate with the financial markets, it was nearly impossible not to be aware of the previous day’s catastrophe. Half a trillion dollars had allegedly vanished in a day, leaving behind neither smoke nor rubble. So far as one could see, the buildings of the metropolis were still standing . . . The mysterious event was referred to as a ‘meltdown,’ . . . ” [44; 382]

The same scene can never be any more familiar as history as repeated itself and asserted in a much more dire magnitude: a financial and physical meltdown of the country’s landmark infrastructure, claiming lives and fortune, as detailed in Brightness Falls‘s sequel. (McInerney probably would never have thought the buildings that survived the stock market 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 how the pandemonium of money and power in go-go 80s threatens to dissolve their marriage.

I’m not telling you to be like your old man and collect your salary from a big corporation all your life. Because you know what? They’re bastards. They don’t really give a goddamn about human beings in the end. [20; 194]

Although he has been groomed to become editor-in-chief, Russell Calloway gripes about the lack of flexibility in publishing books. Out of ambition, fueled by an ancient dispute over the leadership of the clan, he attempts to seize control of the venerable publishing house at which he works, cascading corporate warfare at just the wrong time.

Just because something could be done didn’t require that you do it. Russell had no sense of the fragility of life, of the boundaries that might be crossed if you reached too far . . . She couldn’t understand why Russell needed to rule the world . . . [31; 275]

In the midst of this money chase, what seemed to be an impenetrable marriage is flanked with faultlines. If Brightness Falls has a moral, it’s that people pay more attention to style than substance. The subplot tightly wrapped around the story of the Calloways illustrates this shallowness. Jeff Pierce, the author in rising, is hooked on to drugs. Victor Propp, semi-blocked but caught in the intrigues of writers’ fame, lives on the advance for a novel that he is meant to write but hasn’t delivered in twenty years. Washington, the black editor, is battling the accusation of racial discrimination against African American authors.

A lot of guys, they buy books for their offices, just these long strips of instant so-called books—strips of leather stuck on board. [16; 165]

Brightness Falls truly captures a rash era at its moment of reckoning but gives it a reality check to a period that now seems unreal. It mocks how people desire to leave behind “a pile of stones with your name on it” [48; 412] and hoping it will redeem the life that no longer was being lived.

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

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2 Responses

  1. Not sure if this is one that I would pick up or not, but I always enjoy reading your thoughts on these books.

  2. […] [270] Brightness Falls – Jay McInerney […]

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