How It Ended: New and Collected Stories

By JAY McINERNEY

Jay McInerney seems stubbornly determined to write about cocaine, infidelity, and cigarette smoking for the rest of his career; if, that is, he’s not writing about money, models, and wanton fame seekers. If these plot elements seem overdone and ’80s-like, however, the author of Bright Lights, Big City can still salvage diamonds from the overworked mine. In How It Ended: New and Collected Stories, the arc of his short-story career is laid out, from beginning to present: The story he wrote as an undergraduate at Syracuse, “In the North-West Frontier Province,” attracting the attention of George Plimpton at the The Paris Review, up to and including his most recent tale, “The Last Bachelor,” written in 2008, which features so many of those aforementioned plot points, here reassembled to demonstrate the sad, pathetic actions of a lascivious, drug-addled playboy on the night before his marriage, when he calls an old girlfriend at 1:45 a.m. and drops by her summer house in the Hamptons. “Though it had been years since she’d done blow herself, it seemed perfectly normal to watch him chopping lines, since that’s what they’d always done. Being transported back a decade wasn’t such a bad thing for a girl. Plus, she was morbidly fascinated with his recklessness on the eve of his wedding. She couldn’t help wondering just how far he would push it.” As you’d expect with McInerney’s characters, “The Last Bachelor” pushes it further than you or I probably would, which makes for exhilarating and repulsive reading.