The Taser's Edge

Bright Lights, Big City (Vintage, 1984) by Jay McInerney

I’ve had Bright Lights, Big City for years, and I’m certain I bought it at a particular Salvation Army in Wisconsin whose checkout folks never actually counted the $.33 paperbacks.  It looked interesting, and it was slim, and Raymond Carver says on the front of my copy, “A rambunctious, deadly funny novel that goes right for the mark—the human heart.”

I think Ray (he lets me call him that, since he’s dead and all) might have been able to laugh at more than me, although, yes, this is a funny novel.

I’m interested in what NYC was before it is now.  Not that I know the city at all, but I know that it used to be dangerous, and that plenty of places are safe now.  (Now, for instance, St. Louis is showing the world just how boring the American Midwest is by being the most dangerous city in the States.)  How did that happen?

Not too long ago, I read Richard Price’s Lush Life, which is set in New York today.  Several weeks ago for the first time I watched Wall Street, which is set in New York a bit later than Bright Lights.  And then, to bring in a really strange reference, my thoughts about Manhattan are also heavily informed by the Newbery Medal winning It’s Like This, Cat (now somehow open source).   Also, I have tried the wondrous-to-carb-lovers spaghetti sandwich, which is indeed a bunch of spaghetti and sauce between two pieces of bread, because of that last book.

Bright Lights is the story of a young man making his way in the city.  His particular way is in the fact-checking section of a major magazine, but he is not particularly interested in the job.  He is likely able to be good at it, but he is not good at it.  Part of the problem may be the alcohol and the cocaine and the fact that his wife left him and that his mother died of cancer recently.  When I write it all out in a sentence like that, it seems like this might fall into the Wally Lamb school of contemporary lit., but reading it, it doesn’t.

Told for the most part in an interesting (to me, which could be annoying to a different reader), mostly second person point-of-view, Bright Lights takes us through a few days in it’s protagonist’s life where all the stressors come crashing together.  The thing that marks how smart Bright Lights is—to me—that it truly begins as writers say that novels and books are supposed to begin, in the middle of the action.  And it ends, as fewer authors accomplish without feeling too abrupt, in the middle of the action.

Strong writing, interesting story, interesting topic, real relationships and dialogue, well-written, and short.  Hard to complain about much here.

Although, I guess you could screw it up:

Tuesday Reading Roundup

For me, the perfect balance of books to be reading at the same time is somewhere north of one-at-a-time and south of all the books that I have been reading in the last week.  At one book, I might get bored, or at least I like a change of pace for the sake of my concentration abilities.  At my present number of books, however, I have no overhead capacity for adding a new thing to the pile, should a new interest arise (or a library book be rushing toward coming due).

The real culprit for this state of things is City of God, the monster I am committed to (and really enjoying, too).

  • Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney–actually finished, with review being drafted currently
  • City of God by Augustine–this book definitely shaped my Ash Wednesday homily for tomorrow (the homily which is still a disorganized mess as I sit here blogging instead of editing)
  • Getting the Love You Want by Dr. Harville Hendrix–This book was assigned late in my final semester of Duke Div.  Needless to say, I didn’t read much of it.  Now returning, I note for the first time that although this seems to be a  pop psychology book (and it is), its author is not just a psychologist but a pastoral counselor who studied at Union and Perkins.  Old school mid-20th century liberal theology.  Except the theology is not on the page.  Nothing explicit here, and I would love to hear a more explicitly theological approach to the work that he’s doing here.  I’m guessing we would disagree on some stuff.
  • The Manticore by Robertson Davies–This is the second book in Davies’ Deptford trilogy (one of three trilogies which Davies penned).  Last year I read his Fifth Business, which kicks off this particular trilogy.  The books are complete in themselves, with no real cliffhangers, so I didn’t finish the first burning to start the second.  (For a similar feeling, see William Kennedy’s Albany cycle, although those are even more loosely connected.)
  • Zen and the Birds of Appetite by Thomas Merton–still making me realize that I have next-to-no theology of religions, although to be honest, there are likely other avenues I’ll explore before I get there.  This particular week, Merton and Zen’s war against the Ego/False self is a helpful counterweight to the uncritical (enough) self-fulfillment focus of Getting the Love You Want.  (And that kind of parallel is why you read too many books at once.)

Still in progress, but halted on the tracks…

  • Culture Making by Andy Crouch
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith

To be added soon…

  • The Angry Christian: A Theology for Care and Counseling by Andrew Lester–The exact book I’m talking about when I say that this current reading schedule doesn’t leave me enough overhead space to add new things
  • The Lord by Romano Guardini–Beginning tomorrow, this is my Lent devotional for this year