Jay McInerney Criticism - Essay

Ruth Doan MacDougall (review date 5 October 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Having Fun in New York," in The Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 1984, p. B5.

[In the following review, MacDougall offers a favorable assessment of Bright Lights, Big City.]

The nameless hero of this very funny first novel narrates the story in second person—a device that runs the risk of becoming gimmicky and tedious but instead triumphs, emphasizing the distance the hero feels from his collapsing life.

A "perennial new kid" in school, he grew up with a feeling "of always standing to one side of yourself, of watching yourself in the world even as you were being in the world, and wondering if this was how everyone felt."


(The entire section is 538 words.)

Roz Kaveney (review date 24 May 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Solutions to Dissolution," in Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 1985, p. 572.

[In the following excerpt, Kaveney offers praise for Bright Lights, Big City.]

The urban unease that these novels depict has in them its artistic equivalent, a sense of less than absolute commitment to technical strategies adopted. The novel has traditionally celebrated community; can its traditional mechanisms be as readily applied to the corruption or disappearance, in the modern American city, of any participation in a common social existence? The narrative perversities of Jay McInerney, Gloria Naylor's frequent descents into the barn-storming of melodrama and soap opera, the...

(The entire section is 559 words.)

Ron Loewinsohn (review date 29 September 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Land of the Also Rising Sun," in The New York Times Book Review, September 29, 1985, p. 42.

[In the following review, Loewinsohn offers unfavorable assessment of Ransom.]

Jay McInerncy is a serious, gifted artist. His first novel, Bright Lights, Big City, is a brilliant and moving work—unique, refreshing, imaginatively powerful and authentically conceived. Ransom, on the other hand, while dealing competently with some of the same themes—alienation, self-alienation and the need for context and continuity—rarely rises above the level of mere competence. It feels thoroughly conventional, thoroughly uninspired.

It is concerned...

(The entire section is 746 words.)

P. J. O'Rourke (review date 16 September 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Bookshelf: 'Story of My Life,'" in The Wall Street Journal, September 16, 1988, p. 23.

[In the following review, O'Rourke offers a favorable assessment of Story of My Life.]

Oh no, it's rich kids leading empty lives, taking harmful drugs and having sex too often (then feeling empty, drugged and tired). In Story of My Life, Jay McInerney seems to be adding another volume to the dread and burgeoning category of "Self-Helpless Books."

The browser's first instinct is to take the author, the characters, the author's ex-friends upon whom the characters are based (and the producers, directors and studio executives who will turn it all into a...

(The entire section is 1010 words.)

Carolyn Gaiser (review date 25 September 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Zonked Again," in The New York Times Book Review, September 25, 1988, p. 12.

[In the following review, Gaiser offers an unfavorable assessment of Story of My Life.]

Nelson Algren once observed in conversation that "no matter how many novels you write, it sure as hell doesn't get any easier. Each new book is a whole new ball game." That familiar metaphor takes on fresh meaning here, aptly conveying the sheer chanciness of an artistic enterprise in which even a writer as gifted as Jay McInerney may produce a disappointing novel. A very disappointing one.

Story of My Life is Mr. McInerney's third work of fiction. In 1985, he won critical...

(The entire section is 726 words.)

James Wolcott (review date 10 October 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Yada Yada Yada," in New Republic, October 10, 1988, pp. 38-41.

[Below, Wolcott offers unfavorable review of Story of My Life.]

Beware of a novel built upon a catch-phrase. A flip curl eventually loses its hold. Story of my life, toss-away phrase for a toss-away life, is the signature curl of Alison Poole, postmodern boy-toy by night, aspiring actress by day. "Acting is the first thing that's made me get up in the morning. The first year I was in New York I didn't do anything but guys and blow. Staying out all night at the Surf Club and Zulu, waking up at five in the afternoon with plugged sinuses and sticky hair. Some kind of white stuff in every opening....

(The entire section is 2610 words.)

Josephine Hendin (essay date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fictions of Acquisition," in Culture in an Age of Money, edited by Nicolaus Mills, Ivan R. Dee, 1990, pp. 216-33.

[In the following excerpt, Hendin explores the integration of emotions, individuality, materialism, and commercial culture in Bright Lights, Big City. According to Hendin, the novel represents "the compression of the novel of manners into an equivalent of upscale ads."]

The rich diversity of American fiction has always made newness difficult to characterize. But the 1980s have seen not only the arrival of fresh work by writers who have long established that diversity, but also the fracturing of literary culture along quasipolitical lines:...

(The entire section is 2257 words.)

Frank de Caro (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Three Great Lies: Riddles of Love and Death in a Postmodern Novel," in Southern Folklore, Vol. 48, No. 3, 1991, pp. 235-54.

[In the following essay, de Caro examines the cultural context and significance of contemporary urban folklore in Story of My Life, particularly as revealed in formal and informal communication among the novel's characters.]

At the Indiana University Folklore Institute in the 1960s two bits of lore circulated relevant to the current essay. One was the title of an imaginary, mock study such as waggish graduate students concoct: "Frontier Humor in the Writings of Henry James." The other was the supposedly true story of a...

(The entire section is 7929 words.)

Cathleen Schine (review date 31 May 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Brightness Falls, in The New York Times Book Review, May 31, 1992, p. 7.

[In the following review, Schine offers qualified praise for Brightness Falls.]

A trash novel tells you everything you already know about a way of life you will, in fact, never know. A serious novel tells you, in one way or another, what you don't know about the familiar, the personal, the dailiness of life—and so about life itself. Brightness Falls, Jay McInerney's fourth novel, is an easy, entertaining trash novel with welcome glimpses of authentic writing—moments of honest pleasure stashed here and there, unobtrusively, almost apologetically.


(The entire section is 1307 words.)

Sven Birkerts (review date 7 June 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "McInerney's Redemption," in Chicago Tribune Books, June 7, 1992, p. 3.

[In the following review, Birkerts offers a favorable assessment of Brightness Falls.]

"Whom the gods would destroy," Cyril Connolly once wrote, "they first call promising." Jay McInerney, the most visible of the much-maligned "brat-packers" of the 1980s, might have done well to have the words stenciled on the front of his favorite T-shirt, for in recent years the track of his astonishing ascendancy has been playing in slow-motion reverse.

Every book after McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, every late-night grimace snapped by the papparazzi of the fashion...

(The entire section is 1058 words.)

Richard Eder (review date 7 June 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Campfire of the Vanities," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 7, 1992, p. 3.

[Below, Eder offers a negative review of Brightness Falls.]

Thomas Nashe's "A Litany in Time of Plague" is one of the most celebrated and haunting of Elizabethan poems, with its bony caution to mortality:

Beauty is but a flower
Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air,
Queens have died young and fair,
Dust hath closed Helen's eye.
I am sick, I must die….

Using it for his title, then for a reference, and...

(The entire section is 941 words.)

Joseph Olshan (review date 12 June 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Golden Couple of the Age of Accretion," in The Wall Street Journal, June 12, 1992, p. A12.

[In the following review, Olshan offers tempered praise for Brightness Falls.]

Nearly everyone and everything in Jay McInerney's ambitious fourth novel, Brightness Falls, is leveraged. Companies falsify their assets with elaborate facades; authors who are paid egregious advances cannot honor their commitments; undesirable body parts are pumped with silicone that might explode should the unlucky patron ride the Concorde.

In his novels and stories of the 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald also explored an era's unmet desires and inflated expectations,...

(The entire section is 829 words.)

Evelyn Toynton (review date September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "High Life," in Commentary, Vol. 94, No. 3, September, 1992, pp. 56-7.

[In the following review, Toynton gives a negative evaluation of Brightness Falls.]

"You will have to learn everything all over again." So goes the last line of Jay McInerney's first, most entertaining novel, Bright Lights, Big City (1984). The sentence could almost be taken as McInerney's own authorial program, since both he and his characters seem, in book after book, to be learning not exactly everything but the same thing all over again. And what do they learn? That the glittering allure of hip parties, fashionable clubs, naughty drugs—and, in Brightness Falls, his latest...

(The entire section is 1062 words.)

Jefferson Faye (essay date 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Cultural/Familial Estrangement: Self-Exile and Self-Destruction in Jay McInerney's Novels," in The Literature of Emigration and Exile, edited by James Whitlark and Wendell Aycock, Texas Tech University Press, 1992, pp. 115-30.

[In the following essay, Faye examines the themes of "cultural disaffection," alienation, and expatriation in Bright Lights, Big City, Ransom, and Story of My Life. According to Faye, "Each novel may be considered a bildungsroman whose action revolves around a familial betrayal as it drives the main character to reject not only relatives, but self."]

According to Malcolm Bradbury's The Expatriate Tradition in...

(The entire section is 7061 words.)

Thomas R. Edwards (review date 23 May 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Babylon Re-Revisited," in The New York Review of Books, May 23, 1996, pp. 28-9.

[In the following review, Edwards discusses Bright Lights, Big City, Ransom, and Story of My Life, and finds fault with McInerney's "bad writing" and lack of social and historical understanding in The Last of the Savages.]

The 1980s in America were not unlike the 1920s, as almost everyone noticed. Costly foreign military adventures had wound down, postwar slumps had turned to booms, friends of business in both parties had power in Washington, the demand for illegal substances was enriching the criminal classes even as the rewards of high finance were making criminals...

(The entire section is 3259 words.)

Geoff Dyer (review date 26 May 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Freeing the Slaves," in The New York Times Book Review, May 26, 1996, p. 11.

[In the following review, Dyer cites shortcomings in The Last of the Savages. According to Dyer, "We are left with the statement of great purpose rather than its achieved substance and form."]

As the allusive title suggests, The Last of the Savages addresses itself to big themes. Grappling with "the past's implacable claims on the present," it is a novel about—as a character accents it with some incredulity—history. It is also, tacitly, a novel about the confrontation with a frontier: a demonstration of a writer coming up against his limitations. In the end it...

(The entire section is 1458 words.)

Carter Coleman (review date 9 June 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Riding a Ghost Train, Gatsby-Style," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 9, 1996, p. 10.

[In the following review, Coleman offers praise for The Last of the Savages, but dismisses McInerney's aspiration to match F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.]

It is foolhardy for a novelist to go toe to toe with a beloved classic. Whether by accident or design, it's a risk Jay McInerney takes with his fifth novel. The Last of the Savages echoes with allusions to The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's tragic tale of a self-invented man whose dreams ultimately destroy him. In doing so, he has written a thoroughly engaging and funny novel that...

(The entire section is 1071 words.)

James Campbell (review date 14 June 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Slave to Success," in Times Literary Supplement, June 14, 1996, p. 24.

[In the following review, Campbell offers tempered praise for McInerney's effort to address contemporary race relations in The Last of the Savages.]

In 1962, at the height of the Civil Rights movement. James Baldwin published Another Country, a novel based on the premise that love conquers all, and involving every racial and sexual permutation then imaginable (in many minds, unimaginable). Three-and-a-half decades later, the contents of the pot having failed to melt, the best of the present crop of white writers seem to feel as uncomfortable with black characters as the worst of...

(The entire section is 1004 words.)