You apologize. You beg her pardon. You tell her there are so many damn things on your mind. You have a bad memory for details."" No, this isn't a self-help relationship manual: the narrator of McInerney's slight, strained first novel refers to himself throughout as ""you"" rather than ""I""--a mannerism which becomes increasingly irritating. ""You"" is 24, a would-be writer in Manhattan, working as a beleaguered fact-checker at ""the magazine"" (read The New Yorker)--but spending most nights snorting cocaine on the ""club"" circuit, passively following his decadent pal Tad around. Why is ""you"" so listless, so intent on oblivion? Well, at first it seems as if he's primarily grieving over the breakup of his brief marriage to fashion-model Amanda--who has left him for a male model. But, in the novel's final pages, it's revealed that he is actually grieving over the cancer-death of his mother a year ago; and there's a brief, striking flashback/scene from that deathbed ordeal--with the dying mother suddenly free of lifelong inhibitions, eagerly asking for details about her son's sex life. Through this sequence, and in other spots, McInerney demonstrates a promising tragicomic talent; occasionally there's a very funny line. And one or two strong short stories could probably have been shaped from the material here. As it is, however, this short novel is painfully thin and unshapely: the mother's death, saved for the end as a cheap surprise gimmick, comes too late to humanize the smirky/self-pitying narrator; a rebirth fadeout--symbolized by the eating of warm bread--reads like an unintentional parody of Raymond Carver. And there's blatant padding throughout--tidbits of N.Y.C. observation, running gags lifted from Woody Allen, cutesy references to TV commercials. In sum, then: a spotty, perhaps-premature debut, with an unappealing mix of trendy and maudlin--but a few readers will be drawn by the gloss. . . and more than a few will want to sample the nasty, half-funny, roman Ã clef chapters about life at ""the magazine.