Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Review by Morris, Librarian at Bridgewater Library
You are an unnamed protagonist who spends his days working as a fact checker for a well-known, unnamed New York magazine and dreaming of being a successful writer. At night you drink and snort as much coke as you possibly can in a futile attempt to forget that your wife has recently left you. Unsurprisingly, this turns out to not be the most effective coping mechanism. You have yet to share with your colleagues, friends, and family members the fact that your wife has left you. You keep thinking that maybe, just maybe, she’ll come back. The last time you heard from her she was on assignment, modeling in Paris. “Here you go again. All messed up and no place to go.” You’re looking for answers in all the wrong places. Things are not going well and they’re just going to keep getting worse until you figure out what it is you’re looking for.
The first thing you notice about Bright Lights, Big City is that it’s written in the second person. The fact that it works is what makes it such a great book. “You” become part of the narrative. In the hands of a lesser writer this trick would come off as a cheap gimmick, but McInerney is a fantastic writer. He captures the vapid decadence of 1980s New York perfectly, but he doesn’t glorify it. Instead he holds up a mirror to it. We witness the shallowness and the emotional bankruptcy. We ride the highs, fleeting and illusory, only to be left with the soul-crushing lows. The first chapter is one of my favorite things I’ve ever read. If you’ve ever found yourself somewhere you shouldn’t be doing something you shouldn’t do to forget something you’ll only wind up remembering even more painfully than when you began you know what I mean. Redemption doesn’t come easy, but there’s always hope where there’s a surface to scratch.