Brightness Falls Book Review
With his newest book, Bright, Precious Days, Jay McInerney reintroduces us to the Calloways. Before catching up with them and reviewing his latest offering, I’m going to revisit the two novels they’ve previously appeared in, to provide context, as well as for my own personal pleasure.
Despite being published 24 years ago, Brightness Falls doesn’t feel aged at all. A tale about greed, excess, trying to survive while your city eats you alive, it rings as true today as it did back in the early 90s when it was released. It’s a fascinating take on the New York City novel – Wall Street and the pursuit of money are of course a major theme, but not the entirety of the book. We get to see the city from a literary point of view, through the eyes of those attempting to make great works of art, not merely piles of cash. It’s a refreshing angle to see, and it’s one in which McInerney really thrives.
The story follows the Calloways, Russell and Corinne, as they attempt to survive in a city trying to drown them. Russell is an editor at a prestigious publishing house – once the young prodigy, now 31 and feeling like he’s going nowhere. Corrine is a stockbroker (it wouldn’t be a New York novel without at least one), also 31, still trying to find her place in the world. The couple are viewed by their friends and peers as the gold standard of matrimony – the perfect couple, a shining example to all. However, this is not the case. As we see from being on the inside, bliss is nowhere to be found.
The focus of the book centres around the Calloways’ marriage – she wants kids, he doesn’t think they’re ready. He wants to make bold moves to advance his career, and make his star shine again, she thinks he’s doing it in the wrong ways. She doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life, and is bordering on panic. He isn’t sure either, but is better at rolling with the punches, dealing with what comes his way. Russell and Corinne Calloway are characters created so intricately, with such depth, such emotion, they’re so alive. McInerney has an amazing talent for bringing people to life – it’s rare to read an author who can make you feel so much.
We see their marriage not just from their perspective, but from their friends’ too. We see it through the eyes of Jeff Pierce, an old friend of Russell’s, a long-time admirer of Corrine, a semi-famous author who’s semi-addicted to drugs. We see it through the eyes of Washington Lee, a colleague of Russel, a fellow publisher, a man who views them as the antithesis of everything he is – he’s still partying his way through life, and can’t begin to comprehend the concept of marriage. We also see the marriage through the eyes of New York itself – at times outliers, at times the social norm, the Calloways’ marriage is as often alien as it is exactly right.
There are a lot of authors who write a lot of books about New York, but none do it with as consistently as high a level of quality as McInerney. Each novel he produces feels like a biography of the famous old place, you can tell he’s spent so much time there, so much time digesting the place. He’s capable of writing the bricks and mortar stuff, but this isn’t where he excels – he excels at making you see a side of things you wouldn’t normally.
What sets Brightness Falls apart from so many other novels is that the city isn’t just portrayed as an animal – it’s portrayed as a starving soul. It’s portrayed as an entity that wants love, not just lust. It wants substance, not just greed. It wants quality, not quantity. For a city that is so often demonised, McInerney has a magical way of humanising it, of romanticising it, that it’s impossible not to fall in love. This book is a masterpiece of life, of love, of art – it’s on a plane of existence we feel we know nothing of, but we’ll strive to achieve. This book is a wonderful rollercoaster of literature, and should be read by everyone as the gold standard of such.