Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


The Good Life by Jay McInerney








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In his new novel, The Good Life, Jay McInerney reprises characters Russell and Corrine from Brightness Falls, and pairs them with Luke and Sasha, sets them in Manhattan after 9/11, and lets the impact of a changed world change their lives. What seemed to be a good life before 9/11 looked different after that day’s events, and each character, in one way or another, looks for new meaning to life. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 6, pp. 69-73:


Ash Wednesday. The debris—the paper and sooty dust—had surged up the avenues and stopped at Duane Street.

Staggering up West Broadway, coated head to foot in dun ash, he looked like a statue commemorating some ancient vic­tory, or~ more likely, some noble defeat—a Confederate general, per­haps. That was her second impression. Her first was that he was at least a day late. Yesterday morning, and well into the afternoon, thou­sands had made this same march up West Broadway, fleeing the tilting plume of smoke, covered in the same gray ash, slogging through it as the cerulean sky rained paper down on them—a Black Mass version of the old ticker-tape parades of lower Broadway. It was as if this soli­tary figure was re-enacting the retreat of an already-famous battle.

He paused to lean against a Mercedes coated with the same dust, a yellow respirator dangling from his neck like a talisman, the creases of his face highlighted by the gray powder. She thought somehow that for all his dishevelment, he looked familiar, though she couldn’t say why.

His knees showed through the ripped legs of what until recently had been a pair of dress slacks. The hard hat looked anomalous, and indeed, as he tilted his head back, it fell to the curb, exposing a dark tangle of hair, streaked with the ubiquitous talcy ash.

Corrine approached slowly, afraid she might scare him, a little spooked herself—the street and sidewalks deserted, as if they were the last two people on earth. “Are you . . . all right?”

Corrine held out a bottle of Evian; she was just about to give up, when he raised his hand and reached for it. Both his hands were raw and bloodied, seeping wounds still wet beneath the dusty grime.

After draining the bottle, he seemed to take note of his surround­ings, turning his head in both directions before finally looking back at Corrine. He stared at her for an uncomfortably long interval, like someone untrained in the social graces. “You’re the first person I’ve seen,” he finally said.

She supposed he was in shock or something. She detected the mo­lasses residue of a southern accent. Seen sounding almost like sane.

“Unless I’m imagining you.”

“No, no,” she said. “At least I don’t think you are. It’s hard to tell, though. What’s real, I mean.”

“Can you still smell it here?” he asked.

“The smoke?” Corrine nodded, looking up at the milky plume that arced south by southwest above the office buildings of Broadway.

“Have you been. . . digging?”

He wet his lips and looked back down in the direction from which he’d come. “I was supposed to meet my friend Guillermo at Windows on the World.”

She nodded encouragingly. “Yesterday?”

“Was it yesterday?” He seemed to be puzzling out the time frame.

“Tuesday.” She realized she’d sidetracked him. This might be the first chance he’d had to tell his story. For the past twenty-four hours, they’d all been telling their stories—accounting for their whereabouts and testing their own reactions in the telling. “The eleventh,” she said.

“The morning of the eleventh. I got down there just before nine. I was supposed to meet Guillermo at eight, but I left him a message say­ing I couldn’t make it.”

“You were lucky,” she said.

He nodded slowly, as if considering an idea that hadn’t occurred to him before. “I called him late the night before and left a message canceling. Not canceling—postponing. Until ten. But I never followed up. The thing is, what happened was, I had a fight with my daughter that night, and I was coming downtown to meet my accountant at nine—his office was in the World Financial Center. But I just didn’t feel like waking up that early, so I left him a message. Postponing the breakfast. But who knows if he got it? Eight o’clock yesterday morning.”

She nodded tentatively, trying to take in the details. Sirens wailed from the direction of the West Side Highway. A Boston terrier with a white mask dragged its owner into view around the corner on Duane Street. They looked like a pair of bandits—the dog with its white mask, the owner with red kerchief fastened behind his head, conceal­ing his nose and mouth. She should probably be wearing something herself, she realized.

“When I got out of the cab,” the ashy man was saying, “people in the plaza were looking up and pointing. I didn’t really think about it, not until I was in the elevator of my accountant’s building. Somebody said there’d been an explosion in the tower. I was in the accountant’s office, reading the Journal, and I suddenly thought, Wait a minute, maybe Guillermo didn’t get the message. He might not have checked. I tried to call him on his cell phone, and then Number Seven was evac­uated. I’m calling him over and over as I’m walking down the stair­well from the twenty-seventh floor. Then I’m on West Street, looking up at the smoke, and redialing him when I saw the jumpers. That’s the last thing I remember, bodies raining down on the plaza. Falling slowly and then suddenly exploding like rotten fruit on the concrete.

“Next thing I know, I’m lying on my face in the blackness. I can’t breathe and I can’t see, and my entire body is aching from the inside out. I don’t know if I’m blinded or there’s just no light, but finally I make out a yellow glow in the distance and I start crawling toward it. Then some people pulled me into the lobby of a building.”

“Did you reach your friend?”

“After the second tower came down, I went back. Because I thought he might be in there in that monstrous pile and it was my fault. I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I just stood there on the edge and then, I don’t know, I got in a line, behind another guy. I just took my place, passing along pieces of the debris. Someone gave me a hard hat.” He paused and examined the cut on his arm. “Once in a while, I stopped working to make a call. Then my phone went dead.”

“Phone service is completely screwed up,” Corrine said. “You shouldn’t assume—”

“This morning, there were volunteers down there with phones. I couldn’t reach him.” He shrugged. “Mailbox full.” He shook his head. “A hundred-something floors up. If my daughter hadn’t gotten drunk, if my wife hadn’t been. . . If I hadn’t fought with the both of them. Windows on the World at eight.”

“Have you talked with them? Does your family know you’re safe?”

He nodded, directing a disconcertingly intense gaze upon her. Not the look of a lecher, more the unself-conscious stare of a child. “You look familiar,” he said.

“Corrine,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Luke,” he said, taking her hand as he glanced back over his shoulder. “Is this really happening?”

“I think so,” she said. “It’s all kind of unbelievable, though.” “I keep wondering if I ever actually regained consciousness.” She held his rough hand and kneaded it cautiously.

“You made it,” she said.

“I know what it is,” he said.


“You look like Katharine Hepburn.”

“What, spinsterish and flinty?”

“In a good way.”

“You’re delirious.” Actually, she recalled Russell saying the same thing. Centuries ago. “Do you want to wash up? We’re right up the street. I just came out to check on a neighbor.”

He shook his head. “I should get home.”

“You’ll have to walk up to Fourteenth. Everything’s blocked off below that. And even then.. . I don’t know if there are any cabs.”

“Thanks,” he said.

“Please,” she said, feeling embarrassed in the grip of his gaze. “For what? I didn’t do anything. Not compared to what you’ve been doing. ..

“Actually, you did,” he said.

Corrine jotted her name and her cell phone number on the back of a receipt from Odeon. “Do me a favor,” she said, her voice break­ing. “Will you just let me know. . . well, that you made it home safely. Would you do that for me, please?”

It was in many respects a typical encounter on the day after, one of thousands between stunned and needy strangers, the kind of thing she might have recalled months or years later when something re­minded her of that time or someone asked her where she’d been that day.


In many ways, The Good Life is a simple story, a love story, and a story about how we hope and how we deal with loss. McInerney sets this simple story in the place he knows best, Manhattan, and at the time in recent history that provided the greatest opportunity for personal transformation.


Steve Hopkins, March 23, 2006



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*    2006 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the April 2006 issue of Executive Times


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