BOOKS: The Calloways are back

Published in Financial Mail 02 February 2017

Bright, Precious Days – Russell and Corrine stay with him, says McInerney of third book in the series.

Jay McInerney’s third book in the series chronicling the lives of Russell and Corrine Calloway, first through Brightness Falls and then in The Good Life, boasts a “really good” scorecard as US reviews go.

Released in August, Bright, Precious Days brings a sense that he’s done something else in his career, McInerney says.

“It seems like I’ve finally been forgiven on my own shores for the success of my first novel, which was pretty outsized. In the past, reviewers have felt the need to weigh in on Bright Lights, Big City. Whether they think it was a masterpiece that I’ve never lived up to or that it was overrated, it’s an iconic novel that I happen to have written that’s followed me around.” It earned him kudos as “the writer who defined a generation” and gained him a place among the 1980s group of novelists who wrote best sellers before they were 30, including Bret Easton Ellis, Tama Janowitz, Donna Tartt and Jill Eisenstadt.

Journalism in general is fun for a novelist … It’s something I can do when I’m hung over

Some see Bright, Precious Days as the completion of a trilogy, but there could be more to come. McInerney is unsure. “I didn’t think so much about the characters after the first book, until after September 11 when I was trying to imagine how one could process this kind of event in fiction. I came up with the idea of revisiting these characters and their friends, and domesticating this big tragedy, rather than writing about it on a global scale. Since then they’ve just kind of stayed with me.”
McInerney likes his characters, particularly Corrine. “She kind of stole this book. It’s supposed to be alternate chapters, alternate points of view, but I really think she’s dominant in this book… maybe for the obvious reason that her affair is the central drama.”

While Bright Lights, Big City is very autobiographical, McInerney says these books are less so “because I’m not an editor, and I haven’t been married to the same woman for 25 years, but there are parts of me in Russell, and the world they live in is almost precisely the world I live in”.

Bright-Precious-DaysThe book is described as a “moving, deeply humane novel about the mistakes we make, persistence in struggle and love’s ability to adapt and survive”, and I ask McInerney if he has learnt from his mistakes.
He laughs — Anne Hearst is his fourth wife, with whom he happily celebrated their 10th anniversary in November. “I’ve learnt, I think. Russell didn’t need to learn as much as I did.”
The frenzy of fame and craziness that swirled around McInerney after his Bright Lights, Big City success took its toll. How did he handle it? “Probably not very well… I took advantage of it. I was suddenly welcome everywhere, could meet anybody I wanted to. It created a stereotype of me as a wild nightclub-goer, drug user, model dater, and everybody just assumed I was the character in the book. It was insane.”

Sense of identity
And did it help his career? “No, not necessarily, because it created a lot of resentment in some quarters. Literary people are not supposed to behave like pop stars — they’re supposed to have patches on the elbows of their tweed jackets, smoke pipes and stay home.” He’s rebellious, I muse. “I suppose so … and that’s why I’m not like Russell at all … Russell wanted to be a writer but didn’t really feel like he could make it and didn’t want to stake his sense of identity on something he might not succeed at. I mean, it’s sort of a whacky thing to presume to be a novelist, to stake your whole sense of yourself on becoming that. It’s certainly not a safe path, but it’s the only thing I ever wanted to do, since I was 13 or 14.”

McInerney’s SA book tour late last year coincided with an invitation to speak at an international wine conference in Robertson. He has published three nonfiction books on wine, including A Hedonist in the Cellar, and writes a wine column for Town and Country. “Journalism in general is fun for a novelist — it gets you out of your own head and your apartment, really. It’s something I can do when I’m hung over, which is not really the case with my novels.”

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