Jay McInerney is not particularly known as a moralist, although his earlier novels have carried a sense of warning in their depiction of the young, the rich, and the thoughtless. BRIGHTNESS FALLS, however, is a determinedly cautionary tale, one which sometimes strains too hard to make its points.
Russell and Corrine Calloway are thirtyish, successful New Yorkers. Russell, known as “Crash” in college for his sometimes clumsy manner, is a failed poet now working as editor in a small but prestigious publishing house. Corrine, after dropping out of law school, has made a beginning career on Wall Street. Although they are not as wealthy as some of their more notable friends, they live a comfortable and high-profile life. Their closest friend is the writer Jeff Pierce, Russell’s old college roommate and now, due in part to Russell’s help, a popular author.
Despite the surface glamor of their lives, each of these characters is beset by desperation. Russell feels unappreciated and suspects that his time with the publishing house is limited, despite his successes. Corrine, a former anorexic, questions the validity of her Wall Street life. Jeff has long been in love with Corrine and, in part because of his growing drug addiction, is unable to finish his second book. The elements of tragedy are thus established early in the novel. When Russell decides to attempt a hostile takeover of the publishing house, abetted by questionable support of the legendary writer Victor Propp and easy money of financier Bernie Melman, his act of hubris results in an inevitable collapse of marriage and friendship.
McInerney is still heavily indebted to Scott Fitzgerald in this tale, but the novel, while flawed, is an improvement over his earlier work and shows a seriousness which marks him as a writer of worth.