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The Good Life    by Jay McInerney order for
Good Life
by Jay McInerney
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Though I found The Good Life drawn out in length and at times tedious to read, Jay McInerney's flair for words, and blending of the events of 9/11 with pre-existing marital problems, and life and love in the Big Apple, kept me turning pages. The author meticulously describes the reality of the tension and shock, the fears of children returning to school, and of adults returning to the routines of daily life on Wall Street after the Towers fell. Two couples are the central cast in this drama of the elite living in New York City - including Greenwich Village, TriBeCa, and Upper East Side. McInerney examines at length their too little, too late (words from a popular song of years past) experiences that are painful to themselves, their families and friends.

A bird's eye view of Sasha and Luke McGavock: he has taken a sabbatical from his multi-million dollar job 'in search of something more fulfilling', while uppity socialite Sasha carries on in constant search of luxury, thrills, and playing the fund-raising scene. Their fourteen-year old daughter Ashley attempts to pass into adulthood on the fast track at a tragic cost. Luke is in despair over Ashley's drinking, attempted suicide, and running away from home. Many of Ashley's pursuits mirror the lifestyle of her ambitious mother. Luke admits that 'he had allowed it to happen while he spent most of his waking hours making a career that bankrolled a style of living that he did not, he suddenly realized, find amusing.'

Once tagged as the 'perfect couple ... Ivy League prince and princess', Corrine and Russell Calloway are parents to twins - daughter Storey and son Jeremy. Corrine's promiscuous sister Hilary arrives on the scene, with the intention of spending more time with the children since she donated the eggs, threatening, 'after all I'm the biological mother'. Corrine remained at home with the twins until they entered school, and presently is in the throes of a website venture, while working on a screenplay, an adaptation of Graham Greene's Heart of the Matter. Russell's world is publishing (he's a literary editor), the high life, and other women.

Russell, too, mourns the loss of a man who has disappeared within the fire and ash from hell, and remembers his friend Washington, 'transported back through the years to a brighter moment ... chasing through the night in their quest for the elusive heart of the city ... behind the next door, just ahead, down the next set of stairs'. Corrine 'watched him as if from a great distance ... lying on his back on the far side of the bed, his manuscript hovering above his face ... The white sheet between them like a blank page she couldn't find the words to fill.' (McInerney readers will recognize the Calloways, who were the subject of an earlier book Brightness Falls.)

Luke first meets Corrine at the Ground Zero site. He is covered with soot as he assists in the rubble, while lamenting that he was to meet a friend in the Windows On The World restaurant at the top of the Observation Tower. At their second meeting, they volunteer for a makeshift soup kitchen (a backdrop which the author handles with compassion). Luke and Corrine have unfaithful spouses, both are soul-searching, and converse about wanting to be good people. They find it easy to confide in each other, fall in love, and intend to make changes in their lives - together. The author addresses the scenes at the site, donations of food and supplies, volunteers working together, integrated with fragile emotions and caring about the destruction on the Lower West Side of Manhattan.

Readers of McInerney's prior works - including Bright Lights, Big City, The Last of the Savages, and Story of My Life - will welcome the bulky tome for its sensitivity and realism. The book's finish is a non-ending sort of ending, i.e. it does not connect with the story's path and twists to an abrupt h-a-l-t. However, much credit is due McInerney for resplendent reunion scenes, including a dialog between mother and son after twenty years of estrangement.

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