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The Good Life

The Good Life

3.6 22
by Jay McInerney, Dylan Baker

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Dan Chaon
Honestly, it seems McInerney doesn't know what to do with this material. He skirts the complex observations and deep feelings discussed in his moving essays on 9/11. Perhaps the tragedy feels so sacrosanct, so enormous, that he has chosen not to apply the skills that are closest to his true talent, and what's left is this odd, stilted, earnestly tremulous book.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Jay McInerney's new novel seems from the outside to be composed of the most disheartening elements: The Good Life is about a group of privileged New Yorkers who are led to reassess their lives-and become in many ways better people-in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The plot premise seems so pat and topical that the reader is likely to take fright. But there is mercifully no need. It is a tribute to McInerney's many talents that he can wrest from his schematic structure a novel that is both tender and entertaining. As often in McInerney's world, we find ourselves among a wealthy and ambitious elite, whom the novelist seems both intensely drawn to and repelled by. The focus is on two New York couples: Russell (publishing) and Corinne (screen writing), Luke (ex-banker) and Sasha (charity). McInerney brings an amusingly bitchy eye to bear on their lifestyles (for example, a character's double-height living room is described as appearing "to be holding its breath, as if awaiting a crew from Architectural Digest"). He keeps track of their snobbery and their social one-upmanship with all the attention to detail of a seasoned society columnist. New York resembles a latter-day version of imperial Rome in its last years, a once-noble civilization now shorn of its moral compass. In McInerney's New York, all citizens appear to take drugs, show off at charity balls, palm their children off on badly paid nannies and have sex with people other than their spouses. No one seems altruistic, high-minded, innocent-or plain nice. Then the planes strike the towers and two of the characters, Corinne and Luke, start to reappraise their faltering marriages. It becomes clear that the focus of McInerney's concern is not terrorism or politics but love: how relationships can disintegrate through children and routine, the tension between love and sex and what can keep a union alive. This is a novel about shallowness and what might replace it. For all of McInerney's surface cynicism, he's a writer-like Martin Amis perhaps-with whom, beneath the surface, there is a surprisingly simple, some might say na ve, ideal of goodness at work. Whenever this most cynical of writers has to reveal his allegiances, rather than his hatreds, they turn out to be remarkably homespun. The conclusion of the novel is undramatic. The characters may be searching for The Good Life, but their quest doesn't end up with the discovery of a holy grail. McInerney is describing a relentlessly secular world, where there are no easy sources of redemption. The characters end up finding meaning in those two stalwarts of the bourgeois worldview: romantic love and the love of children. This story is a simple one, but McInerney delivers it with grace and wit. He does what a good novelist should: he takes an abstract idea and gives it life. (Jan.) Alain de Botton is the author of On Love, Status Anxiety and How Proust Can Change Your Life, among other books. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Eber New York author McInerney's latest work reveals his favorite setting in the dark days following September 11. Corrine and Russell Calloway (introduced in Brightness Falls) and Luke and Sasha McGavock are two fortysomething couples whose lives intersect and worlds collide as their city climbs out of the ashes. Luke, who had recently quit his job as a financial expert, had planned to meet a friend for breakfast at Windows on the World but left a voicemail that he couldn't make it. His friend is now missing. Living with her husband and six-year-old twins in TriBeCa, native New Englander Corrine needs to assert her connection to the city where she never felt she quite belonged. She and Luke meet at a makeshift soup kitchen set up at ground zero for rescue workers and police and firefighters. The specifics of that Tuesday are more muted than sharply defined; our protagonists might have met during any tragic event or even community gathering, ultimately forging a relationship based on mutual need and spousal disappointment. McInerney drops name after name as his New York takes on a life of its own, becoming as much a character as any of the two-legged kind. In truth, the story displays a more genuine richness when it moves south to Luke's Tennessee home town. Inveterate Gothamites will especially appreciate this love story between kindred spirits and between city dwellers and their wounded mecca. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/05.]-Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
McInerney's novel of 9/11 and its aftershocks offers acute cultural observation before sinking into a sappy romance. The subject ensures that McInerney will generate more attention than he has since his debut (Bright Lights, Big City, 1984). Now that the novelist is a couple decades more mature, the urban hipsters he once chronicled have begun to suffer from marital malaise and mid-life crises, exacerbated by the terrorist attacks, which cause them to question the very essence of their existence. If life can never be the same again, what could it possibly become? Death serves as the ultimate aphrodisiac, sparking a Ground Zero soup-kitchen affair between Corrine Calloway and Luke McGavock, after their chance meeting lets both realize the emptiness of their marriages. The infertile mother of twins (through a silly subplot concerning the insemination of her slutty sister), Corrine is attempting to establish herself as a screenwriter after staying home to raise the kids, with her publisher husband Russell supporting the family. Where Corrine and Russell seemed to be sleepwalking through their marriage before the 9/11 wake-up call, Luke had already tried to make drastic changes-quitting his lucrative Wall Street job to find inner purpose, much to the dismay of his unfaithful socialite wife and their precociously jaded teenage daughter. They much preferred him as a meal ticket than a pervasive presence in their lives. Though McInerney has a sharp eye for the values and foibles of the upscale tribes of Manhattan (as if reporting undercover, a spy on the circuit of book parties, charity bashes and pricey restaurants), the dialogue and interior monologues through which Corrine and Luke proceedwith their affair would be embarrassing, overheated cliche even by bodice-ripping standards. The results read like a shotgun marriage between social anthropology and soap opera. The title suggests a number of questions-What constitutes the good life? Is it possible to sustain it in post-9/11 New York? Can it be bought? Or earned?-that the author fails to resolve.
From the Publisher
“A real love story . . . with a sympathy and depth new to McInerney’s fiction.” —The New York Times

“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

Product Details

Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Abridged, 5 CDs, 6 hours
Product dimensions:
5.62(w) x 6.17(h) x 1.02(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Good Life

By Jay McInerney

Random House

Jay McInerney
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0375411402

Chapter One

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, 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.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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