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: