The Good Life 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.
Following their first appearance in 1992’s Brightness Falls, the Calloways are revisited in the 2006 follow up The Good Life. It’s a tale that is as similar, and yet different, to Brightness Falls as it’s possible to be – the characters are the same, the locations the same, the events similar; yet the tone is so massively different. The characters have aged, as have we as the reader, and the setting, New York, is vastly changed.
Russell and Corrinne have survived the tumult of Brightness Falls. Infidelity has been cast aside, and they’ve reconciled their relationship. But it’s never going to last long. Maybe under different circumstances things could stay ok, but there are no different circumstances. That they live in New York is paramount to what comes next.
The Good Life, whilst being about the Calloways, is more about New York; it takes place before, during, and in the aftermath of 9/11. With their proximity to the events, it’s impossible that they won’t affect the Calloways – they do, and in ways you wouldn’t expect.
With their worlds turned upside down, being completely and utterly rocked – they have kids now, twins Jeremy and Storey, and it’s impossible for Russell and Corrinne not to put them at the forefront of their every thought – they both seek solace in different ways, being unable to find it in each other. Russell does so in his work, having recued his career in publishing following his failed coup in Brightness Falls. Unfortunately for their marriage, Corrinne finds solace in Luke.
Luke McGavock is the major new introduction in this novel. He’s a retired stockbroker; he’s removed himself from that world in order to write a novel, so he says. He also wants to get more involved in his daughter’s life – but she’s in those perilous teenage years and he finds it difficult. It’s not helped by the fact Luke and his wife are constantly at odds, together more for show than love, and the fact the world the family inhabits is one of superficiality.
Luke and Corrinne meet at ground zero – they’re both close by during the tragedy, and both throw themselves in to volunteer work as a result of the relative emptiness of their day to day lives. What happens after they meet is a wonderful take on a new relationship – it shows the growth in McInerney’s writing, as it’s not all just about lust and sex.
Corrinne and Luke fall for each other almost immediately, and it’s fascinating to see this happen through both of their eyes. We get both perspectives on the relationship, as well as outside ones – Corrinne confides in her best friend Casey, who’s no stranger to infidelity, and Russell his suspicions to his best friend Washington.
We also see in the budding relationship a mature take on things – both Corrinne and Luke have spouses, and children, and it’s amazing to follow their thought processes, to see the lust blowing up then being tempered, to see wild thoughts reined in by very un-wild realisations. It’s a far cry from Brightness Falls in this respect, but it’s a welcome one.
What’s odd about The Good Life is that we probably spend more time with Luke than we do with Russell – much like Corrinne does. We’re in her shoes for so much of the novel, it feels like we’re flying at one hundred miles an hour. Often, Russell is almost forgotten, and thanks to the brilliantly intimate style of writing we feel bad about this – we feel like the betrayer, casting Russell aside in favour of Luke.
This is not a bad thing though – whilst the tone is different to Brightness Falls, the style is the same. It’s brilliantly engaging writing, such vivid characters brought to life it’s impossible not to become engaged in their lives. But it’s written without judgement – all the characters have flaws, and they all have a vast array of positive traits. They’re presented to us in a way we can form our own opinions, and this is one of the things that makes McInerney’s writing so engaging – it’s like he’s writing for us. Each time I pick up this novel, I feel like it’s written for me, and he wants to know my opinion on the events, the characters, the settings. It’s a beautiful feeling to have while reading a book, and it’s part of what makes this such a beautiful book to read.