The Washington Post
The Good Lifeby Jay McInerney
In The Good Life, Jay McInerney unveils a story of love, family, conflicting desires, and catastrophic loss in his most powerfully searing work thus far.Clinging to a semiprecarious existence in TriBeCa, Corrine and Russell Calloway have survived a separation and are wonderstruck by young twins whose provenance is nothing less than miraculous. Several miles uptown and perched near the top of the Upper East Side’s social register, Luke McGavock has postponed his accumulation of wealth in an attempt to recover the sense of purpose now lacking in a life that often gives him pause. But on a September morning, brightness falls horribly from the sky, and people worlds apart suddenly find themselves working side by side at the devastated site.Wise, surprising, and, ultimately, heart-stoppingly redemptive, The Good Life captures lives that allow us to see–through personal, social, and moral complexity–more clearly into the heart of things.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
The Washington Post
“The Good Life is McInerney’s most fully imagined novel as it is his most ambitious and elegiac.” —The New York Review of Books
“A triumph.”—The Village Voice
“McInerney at his narrative best.”—Chicago Sun-Times
Read an Excerpt
The Good Life
By Jay McInerney
Random HouseJay McInerney
All right reserved.
Summer used to be as endless as the ocean when she was a girl and her family rented the gray shingled cottage on Nantucket. Now, she found it hard to believe she was already back in Manhattan and the kids were in school and she was already racing home, late again, feeling guilty that she'd lingered over a drink with Casey Reynes. The kids had been home for hours after their first day in first grade, and she had yet to hear about it.
Women blamed themselves; men blamed anything but.
This was Corrine's interpretation of the guilt nipping at her high heels as she cantered up Hudson Street from the subway, passing the hand-lettered sign in the window of their Chinese takeout: freshly grounded coffee. Guilt about leaving the kids for so long, about not helping Russell with dinner, about attempting to restart her long-dormant professional life. Oh, to be grounded herself. Seven-fifteen by her watch. Still attuned to the languorous rhythm of the summer-they'd just closed up the house in Sagaponack four days ago-she'd barely had time to kiss the kids good-bye this morning and now the guests would be arriving at any minute, Russell frenzied with cooking and child care.
Bad mother, bad wife, bad hostess. Bad.
When she had yearned to be a mother, imagining what it would be like to be a parent, it had been easy to conjure the joy . . . the scenes of tenderness, the Pieta moments. What you don't picture are the guilt and the fear that take up residence at the front of your brain, like evil twins you didn't bargain for. Fear because you're always worried about what might go wrong, especially if your kids were born, as hers were, three months early. You can never forget the sight of them those first few days, intubated under glass, veined eggshell skulls and pink writhing limbs-the image stays with you even as they grow, reminding you of just how fragile these creatures are, how flimsy your own defenses. And guilt because you can never possibly do enough. There's never enough time. No matter how much love and attention you lavish on them, you're always afraid that it will never be enough.
Corrine had become a connoisseur of guilt; not for her the stabbing thrust of regret for an ill-conceived act-but, rather, the dull and steady throb of chronic guilt, even as she'd done her best to rearrange her life around her kids, quitting her job to take care of them and, over the past two years, working highly flexible hours on a screenplay and on a project that was the obverse of a busman's holiday-a start-up venture called Momtomtom.com, which had been on the verge of a big launch this past spring, when the Internet bubble started to deflate and the venture capital dried up. This afternoon, she'd spent four hours making a presentation to a possible backer, hustling for seed money for the Web site. As these prospects dimmed, she'd been trying to set up meetings on the screenplay, an adaptation of Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter. And here were the theoretical bookends of her existence, the maternal and the romantic-the latter submerged and almost extinct. In fact, that had been her secret intention in writing this script: to try to rekindle the romance and fan it back to life.
Corrine hadn't wanted to be one of those mothers who paid someone else to raise her kids; for the first five years, to the astonishment of her friends and former colleagues, she'd stayed at home. Manhattan was an existential town, in which identity was a function of professional accomplishment; only the very young and the very rich were permitted to be idle. The latter, like her friend Casey Reynes, had their charities and their personal assistants and inevitably managed to convey the impression that all this constituted an exhausting grind. Russell had initially supported her maternal ideal, though, as the years went by and their peers bought vacation homes in the Hamptons, he couldn't consistently disguise his resentment over their straitened finances, or his sense that his stay-at-home wife had become translucent, if not invisible, within the walls of their loft-a nanny without salary.
Writing a screenplay was, in their circle, code for being unemployed; finishing the first draft failed to produce the sense of accomplishment she'd expected. A screenplay, after all, was a kind of theoretical object, a recipe rather than the meal itself. And thus far she hadn't had much luck in assembling the ingredients. So when the kids entered preschool last year, she had tried to turn her obsession with child rearing into a profession-formalizing the body of knowledge she'd acquired as a full-time city mother into a viable on-line resource. If that plan didn't work out, she would have to return to the job marketplace, as much for her own self-esteem as to defray the $34,000 tuition fees for the kids.
A homeless man was encamped in the shadow of construction scaffolding across the street from her building-a rarer sight than it would have been ten years ago. A young, dirt-caked slacker with a ragged goatee, a bull terrier on a leash, and a paper coffee cup at his feet. As Corrine hurried past, he said, "Hey, beautiful. I need a blow job. I need a place in the Hamptons. I need a movie role."
She paused, registering the humor-and her husband would have loved this, storing it away with all the other anecdotes he used to illustrate his wife's hilarious singularity-but instead of laughing, she was thinking about needs. What we need in order to make life bearable.
Suddenly coming to her senses, the panhandler gaping at her.
"I need romance," said Corrine, dropping a dollar in the wishing well of his cup. "Whatever happened to the romance?"
She burst into her apartment, aching for her children, who over the course of the interminable afternoon might have died, dashed their heads against the edge of the coffee table she kept vowing to replace, been kidnapped, or forgotten her entirely. Corrine would have been less surprised at any of these scenarios than she was to see Hilary on the sofa, playing with the kids.
"Mom, guess what. You won't believe! Aunt Hilary's here."
Her daughter, Storey, loved to deliver news and make announcements.
It's true-she wouldn't believe. Last Corrine knew, her little sister had been in L.A. She'd tried calling as recently as last week, only to be told the number had been disconnected. And now here she was in TriBeCa, reclining on Corrine's couch with Jeremy in her lap. No matter that Corrine had seen her dozens of times in the intervening years: Hilary was preserved, in Corrine's mind, semifrozen at the age of fifteen, the last year they'd shared a domicile, so that it was always a surprise to see her as a woman, and a pretty convincing one at that. Only a few evanescent lines at the corners of her eyes hinted that she'd passed thirty a few years before.
The first thing Corrine did, pure reflex, was to scoop Jeremy up into her arms and hug him, but instead of clutching her, he squirmed.
"Hey, sis." Hilary rose from the couch, stretching lithe and catlike in her leopard top. As if to preserve Corrine's illusion of her youthfulness, she still moved and dressed like a teenager, and had the body to carry it off. "Thought I'd surprise you."
"I'm . . . I am." Corrine belatedly hugged her sister with the arm not holding Jeremy-a sister sandwich, with her son-their son?-in the middle. Surprised, yes, Corrine thought . . . although at some point unpredictability becomes a pattern. "You look . . . great," Corrine said.
"Aunt Hilary's been in Paris," Storey said.
Jeremy squirmed out of Corrine's grasp and dropped onto the ottoman.
"Well, actually I came from London today, but I've been in Paris for the past two weeks."
"She met Madeleine," Storey said, holding up her favorite book. "Can you believe it, Mom? Aunt Hilary knows her. Why didn't you tell us she knows Madeline?"
"I had no idea," Corrine said, casting a reproving glance at her sister. "Although, actually, now that I think about it, I'm not surprised at all. Your aunt Hilary knows just about everybody in the whole world."
"The whole world?"
"Your mom's just making a little joke."
It was true-you couldn't watch a movie or open a magazine without Hilary dropping intimate remarks about the two-dimensional icons therein. Why shouldn't she know Madeline?
"Aunt Hilary saw her at the Eiffel Tower with Miss Clavel and the other little girls."
"What's so great about Madeline?" Jeremy asked. "She's just a little girl."
Just like Hilary to tell Storey she was acquainted with a fictional character, fiction being her great specialty. Corrine didn't want Storey getting mocked for relating this triumph at school. She was feeling ambivalent enough about the Fluffies-the fairylike creatures that she had conjured up for the kids when they were three, who had their own biographies and their own little house in the kids' bedroom. They'd been through this once before when Hilary claimed to be great friends with Barbie-to whom she bore more than a passing resemblance.
"Corrine," Hilary said, "why are you looking at me that way?"
"What way?" Storey demanded. "What way is she looking at you? Mom, what does she mean?"
Jeremy was bouncing up and down on the sofa.
"Have you got a place to stay?"
"Collin has this loft in SoHo? But I have to call his neighbors for the keys. I think I may have the wrong number or something."
As if, Corrine thought, she was supposed to know who Collin was. Some fucking drug dealer, minor English aristocrat, or bass player, if experience was any guide. She gestured toward the couch. "You're welcome to the guest suite." Theirs was one of those old tunnel-style TriBeCa lofts, shaped like Manhattan itself, long and skinny, the most space they could find for the money back in 1990, when the area was still considered remote-an eighteen-by-eighty-foot rectangle with a single bathroom carved out of commercial space in the seventies. They'd walled off first one bedroom in the back and then another when the children were born, and kept telling themselves, as the years slipped past, that they'd probably move by the time the kids needed separate bedrooms. Which they did now. The experts said six was the age, but somehow all of the possible solutions seemed to require more cash than they commanded.
Russell was calling out from behind the kitchen counter. She wondered how he was taking this.
"Can Aunt Hilary give us our bath?" Storey asked. "Please please please."
"I suppose so," said Corrine.
"Race you to the bathroom," Storey told her brother.
"We will walk to the bathroom," Corrine said, grabbing hold of the back of Jeremy's shirt. Last week, he'd slipped and bruised his forehead-so Corrine reminded herself as she tried to justify the note of irritation in her voice.
Russell, meanwhile, was in his cooking frenzy in what they called the kitchen, retaining the nomenclature of residences with discrete rooms, flailing away with his ten-inch German chef's knife, juggling his beloved copper pots and French steel pans, which weighed as much as the unused dumbbells in the bedroom closet, the heft of which seemed to her to have as much to do with the macho aesthetics of amateur chefdom as with heat distribution. Cooking was a new sphere of masculine competition; Russell and Washington and his chef friend Carlo had lately taken to comparing notes on butchers and cutlery the way they used to deconstruct stereo equipment, garage bands, and young novelists. For fifteen years, Russell had been perfectly happy with their Calphalon pots, a wedding present from Macy's, until Washington told him the sous-chef at JoJo said they were for pussies.
She kissed him on the cheek."I promise I had no idea," she whispered. "I haven't spoken to her in weeks-months, probably. You're not furious, are you?"
"Don't worry, she exonerated you."
She put a finger to her lips. Russell seemed incapable of speaking at any volume but loud, a characteristic ill-suited to loft living.
"At least she didn't show up with some head-banger or felon in tow." She put her arms around her husband's ribs. "Is she going to spoil your perfect seating chart? I don't see how we can-"
"No big deal," Russell said, chopping away at a leek.
Corrine could hardly believe her ears. Russell was a maniac about his dinner parties. He was capable of throwing a tantrum if Corrine added someone at the last minute. It was one of the few areas of life in which he was prissy. When he put on his chef/host hat, everything had to be just so. Not to mention the fact that he'd grown tired of the saga of the prodigal sister-in-law, although he wouldn't admit it.
She shook her head. "You mean you won't have a heart attack if there's an uneven number at the table?"
"Actually, Salman canceled this afternoon. And then Jim called and said Cody Erhardt was in town and would I mind if he joined us."
Now she understood. "Did Salman have an excuse?"
"He's got a deadline and he leaves on his book tour tomorrow."
Corrine could tell he was disappointed, though he liked to act as if having Salman Rushdie over to dinner was no big deal. That was one of the things she hated about New York, how you were supposed to be cool and take for granted the awe-inspiring people and events you'd fantasized about back home in Altoona or Amherst. By the time you were behind the velvet ropes or sitting at the front booth, you were probably too jaded to admit how lucky you felt or to enjoy it the way you once imagined you would have.
Corrine was actually relieved, since in the absence of their illustrious guest, the evening would be more relaxed. It wasn't just Salman and his heady aura of celebrity; his new girlfriend was absurdly beautiful, to the point of being a socially disruptive force. The last time they'd had dinner together, Russell made an ass out of himself trying to amuse her; and besides, they'd been friends with Salman's wife, the mother of his youngest child.
Excerpted from The Good Life by Jay McInerney Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Jay McInerney is the author of seven novels including Bright Lights, Big City and Brightness Falls. He has also published a collection of short stories, How it Ended, and two books on wine. He is a regular contributor to New York Magazine, the Guardian Weekly, and Corriere della Serra. He lives in New York City and Water Mill, New York.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This was the worst book ever never read it
Good writing, interesting characters and plot. Looking forward to another McInerney read.
I really enjoyed the novel and never thought I'd be rooting for two adulterers. I think the book is definitely stylish for it's time, and if you're a Manhattanite, you'll appreciate all the references to the city. However,after all the investment into the main characters' lives, I felt that the ending was rushed and incomplete, with no real indicator of the direction it turned. Forgive me, but I felt the author was a bit lazy. It felt as if he just..gave up towards the end. The last four pages or so just seemed to go in a different direction from the sentiments of the characters and then it somewhat fell off an unexpected cliff. Despite this, I can't take away from the overall story, even if I would've liked a different ending.
Looking forward to this Novel, but disappointed, expecting the story to get better and better, it finally lured me in about 3/4 of the way through the book. Took me several weeks to read which is unusally and should have been a sign. The ending...total disappointment. Expected more and got much much less!
You must read this book. I devour an abnormally high number of novels, and rarely (very rarely) does one make my bookshelf. Instead, I slam, thump, and threaten to write to authors of books that don't cut it, and pile them into boxes (quite periodically) to go to our local library for their on-going used book sale. Then, I hit one. This is one of those ones. It made me root for two people having an affair. Never before has such a compromise of values pulled me through the book to the end. I won't tell you the last two pages, but, about them, Mr. McInerney is going to get a letter from me. How far he has grown from Bright Lights, Big City. He, personally. This book could not have been written by an author untouched within his own life. This story is framed around 9/11 in such a way as to work, show, teach, allow, and softly let you into that moment of the world. His characters are credible. His characters are the best and worst of us, playing out their lives in the best and worst of the modern American landscape. It's absolutely brilliant. Mark off two full days on your calendar, get in your favorite cheeses and breads, and turn off your cellphone. It's that good. Bravo!
Despite occasionally scintillating writing, this book is full of selfish, self-centered, spoiled and oversexed characters who are obsessed with their image and who speak mostly in four-letter words. None of the characters evoked in me one whit of personal connection or caring.
Well written with a definite New York flair. Lots of great references to New York environs which is appreciated more with some time spent in the city
Jay McInerney proves his prodigious talent as a novelist in The Good Life. The novel takes place just before, and then after, the events of 911, and he handles the emotional lives of New York's survivors with great skill and sensitivity. McInerney has the ability within these pages to take the terror out of the terrorist attack and replace it with the strength and perseverance of its survivors. This novel honors those New Yorkers who died on that September day and celebrates the checkered day-by-day reality of those who continue to live on and seek out the American ideal of the good life.
The setting for this novel is New York and the 9/11 tragedy. Aside from the pictures on the front cover and back I did not find any images in the writing to make me feel anything about 9/11. I wanted to read about those images and remember because it is apart of my history. The characters are doing a dance with each other but I cannot determine which dance it is because the pacing is odd. The interaction between husband and wife and subsequently, their lovers is stale. If this is as the title suggests, then I will graciously pass.
Amazingly told story of two people, thrust back to reality after an unreal experience. This story, set in the early days after 9/11, will bring any New Yorker back to that reality and will provide a setting where forbidden love makes sense. McInerney takes the time to develop the characters and story and presents it all in the post 9/11 setting that we remember all too well. Highly recommended.
Life in New York City has a certain rhythm to it on all levels. Whatever sector you are familiar with, it has its own way to exist. After 9/11 the melody changed everywhere. There was nothing familiar or recognizable from the past, only the uncertainity of the future and the fear of how the world had become so small. Characters are real and you can identify with them when they are sharing their grief, hurt and fear. The lives that they had are all up for grabs after 9/11. They are fragile and easily weak with emotion. The facade of the New York personality of toughness and coldness is caught off guard. But, the will to survive and to regain feeling for things is strong and slowly these characters begin to reassess who they are and what their lives matter now that so many have left them behind for reasons not quite conceivable. The city that seemed so strong and bold and unrelenting, was driven to its knees and everyone, everywhere saw it time after time after time. There was no way to diminish the pain and the courage needed to face it. This story was written by someone who knew New York and the people there before 9/11 and who admires them after that date.
With a New Yorker's heart and masterly pen Jay McInerney has crafted an unforgettable tale of a city and its people. It's a story headline fresh and fraught with the qualities that define our human predicament - some noble, others base. An astute observer, McInerney has a unique sense of New York City, bringing its streets and zip codes to midday vibrancy or nocturnal rest. He captures the quiddity of characters with a portraitist's skill his brush strokes are glances, expressions, and words. Describing Manhattan as 'an existential town, in which identity was a function of professional accomplishment,' McInerney introduces two families. Corrine and Russell Calloway share their Tribeca loft with 6-year-old twins, a daughter and son. Yearning for all that motherhood had to offer, Corrine quit her job which left a rather desultory Russell to be the family breadwinner. Now at work on a screenplay, Corrine is hoping to augment the family's dwindling bank account. Sasha and Luke McGavock live on the Upper East Side with their 14-year-old going on 20 daughter, Ashley. Sasha is gorgeous, immaculately groomed, often wearing gowns loaned to her by Oscar (we needn't say Oscar who) and a constant presence at all the important charity benefits. Who people are, what they have, what they're saying about her - this is what matters to Sasha. Luke is the son of a Tennessee minister who has amassed a fortune as a financial expert. He recently left his job, feeling the need to reassess his direction in life. Now, that he's at home he is acutely aware that his daughter has gleefully adopted all the extravagances of her mother and then some. He had failed to notice this, among other things, 'while he was so single-mindedly pursuing his career, bring home the prosciuto.' As chance would have it, he has made a breakfast date with his good friend, Guillermo Rezzori. The year is 2001 and they're to meet at Windows on the World at 8:00 a.m., but Luke leaves a voicemail canceling their September 11 meeting. Guillermo, along with a host of others, is lost in the devastating attack. Remorseful and unhappy that he and Sasha could not reach out to each other during this time of tragedy, Luke volunteers at a makeshift soup kitchen set up at Ground Zero for the firemen and other rescue workers. There, under the direction of Jerry, 'a hulking , bullet-headed carpenter' he sets to his tasks, and meets Corrine. She, too, has sought solace in giving herself over to feeding others. Their attraction is almost immediate, brought together by a cataclysmic event and disappointment in their marriages. McInerney's pictures of daily life by Ground Zero are unforgettable as we see how the tragedy affected the lives of a group of very different people. Their camaraderie is touching their struggles to overcome sear. New York City is this author's turf, his sharp eye misses nothing. With 'The Good Life' McInerney has captured forever a time and a place. It is a story of love and loss. And just as the aftershock of 9/11 reached each of us, it is in one way or another our story, too. We could not have found a better voice to tell it. - Gail Cooke
Luke McGavock detests his upper class hollow life so he decides to make changes to the chagrin of his wife Sasha, who insists she covers both of their needs with her activity to help the poor through elitist charity galas. Their teenage daughter enjoys the material life that his financial job covers. He quits his high paying Wall St. financial job seeking something meaningful.------ At the same time that Luke is going through a soul searching, publisher Russell Calloway and his previous stay at home wife Corrine barely know one another anymore though they raised twins that were initially sired through the artificial insemination of her sister. Corrine now wants to do something meaningful so she is trying to break in as a screenwriter.------ 9/11 changes everything as Luke and Corrine meet at a Ground Zero soup-kitchen. They are immediately attracted to one another but seek comfort that they know their respective spouses will fail to provide to them after watching so much death and destruction. They turn to each other and begin an affair with both wondering what is truly THE GOOD LIFE.------ The deep look at how 9/11 affected the social life of Manhattan¿s upper crust make for an intriguing drama until the affair intercedes and brings the plot back to soap opera realm. The key four characters seems genuine especially the before and after Luke and Corrine. Meanwhile fans will ponder the philosophical title in a world that is five degrees from a suicide bomber.---- Harriet Klausner