Review

The Good Life

by Jay McInerney



Love is most easily accessed through stories. Fiction and
nonfiction expound upon the intricacies of relationships and the
emotion behind those relationships. Characters in stories allow
readers to live Aristotle's theory: Humans experience extreme
emotions vicariously through fiction, therefore understanding
important morals without actually enduring their impetuses. A
successful piece of fiction, therefore, not only creates an
interesting story but also inspires some kind of moral discourse
and sensitivity or receptivity. Jay McInerney's sharp new novel,
THE GOOD LIFE, does just that as it powerfully attacks preconceived
notions of love and sets a magnificent relationship among a very
morbid national tragedy.

Luke McGavock is a middle-aged Wall Street wizard. His apartment on
Park Avenue resides in the most coveted zip code in all of New York
City. The enormous success that Luke sees in the market allows him
to abruptly leave his job when he begins to feel physically and
spiritually restless, opting for more time with his family. Sasha,
Luke's wife, sits on myriad philanthropic committees. Her social
schedule revolves around elitist charity gatherings where her good
looks are outdone only by her inordinately expensive yet tasteful
outfits. Her social endeavors keep her busy enough to avoid Luke
for much of the couple's days. Luke's daughter, Ashley, appears to
be moving quickly into her mother's mold with her stunning
features, high-priced wardrobe, overactive social calendar marked
by appointments with handsome twenty-five year old heirs, and aloof
air of entitlement.

Corrine lives with her husband and two children in a downtown New
York City loft. When Corrine gave birth to twins, she stopped
working and has not yet returned to a formal job. To allay her
family's monetary problems, Corrine thought to create a website for
baby accoutrements and write a screenplay that adapted one of her
favorite novels, but both ventures became stagnant soon after she
launched them. At the base of her complexes about performance
is her struggle to become pregnant; it forced her to rely on her
younger, more promiscuous sister. The two women underwent a
convoluted fertility program where needles and nudity, all in front
of Corrine's husband Russell, were necessary daily activities. And
when Corrine's sister unexpectedly pops back into town, Corrine
feels maternally challenged by the complicated genetic links
between her husband, sister and children. Disillusion with both
people and society leaves Corrine in a state of constant
self-criticism.

On September 12, 2001, after spending twenty-four hours working in
rubble, Luke walks away from Ground Zero, covered in ash. His
bloodied hands are strained and shaking from carrying bricks while
his breath falters from smoke inhalation. Luke was supposed to eat
breakfast in one of the buildings that came down before his eyes,
and after the towers crumbled he just started carrying rubble,
hoping that he would not uncover the man with whom he was supposed
to dine. Corrine appeared angelic to Luke as he staggered up the
street in a sublime scene. After providing him with a bottle of
water and some comforting conversation, she wrote down her phone
number on a movie stub and with a cracking voice asked Luke to call
her and let her know that everything was all right. Luke calls
several days later.

Corrine and Luke find themselves spending innumerable hours at a
makeshift food kitchen; their clients, however, are not the
homeless but instead are the fireman, policeman and national
guardsman in the thick of the destruction. The tragedy pulls Luke
farther away from his wife and Corrine farther away from her
husband. At the same time, the destruction and loss bring Corrine
and Luke together to fill the void in both of their
lives. 

In THE GOOD LIFE, impending loss changes everything and economic
barriers give way to ubiquitous familial problems. Luke and Corrine
need to decide how much they value their vows of fidelity, but even
more they both need to decide what means the most to them. Dinner
parties, walks to school, and events at the Twenty-One Club all
take on new meanings. Luke travels to his southern hometown to
nurse his daughter back to health and resolve long-standing issues
with his mother and, in doing so, leaves Corrine to handle her own
husband's infidelity. Corrine must also come to terms with her
sister's role in her children's lives.

Jay McInerney's 1984 novel, BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY, earned him
immense acclaim for its biting social satire. THE GOOD LIFE, a
social commentary set twenty-two years later, skillfully weaves a
love story into a tale that comments on and discusses present-day
people and society. It is not simply entertaining; rather, it is
enthralling and beautiful in its discussion of love, family and
loss. McInerney's knack for social criticism is as sharp as ever
and his writing has only gotten better.

Reviewed by Scott Handwerker on January 22, 2011

The Good Life
by Jay McInerney

  • Publication Date: April 24, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0375725458
  • ISBN-13: 9780375725456