From McInerney (The Good Life, 2006, etc.), a collection of 26 stories spanning some three decades.
The stories fall into two general categories. Many of the earliest ones provided the seeds for novels, and they remind us how fresh the young writer’s voice seemed when he made his breakthrough with Bright Lights, Big City (1984). Other stories similarly introduce the characters, voice and themes that would be extended in novels such as Story of My Life (1988), Brightness Falls (1992) and Model Behavior (1998). Comparatively disappointing are the later stories, many of them written since his 2000 story collection published in England (also titled How It Ended). Some of the same obsessions remain—glamour, drugs, nightlife, the endless redundancy of parties—yet the freshness of tone has curdled into cliché. It’s hard to determine whether the author is writing about protagonists who are pretentiously shallow, adulterous, often aspiring writers who have fallen short of their potential, or whether such protagonists are merely stand-ins for the writer. It’s also hard to write about these stories without giving the endings away, but too many of them rely on twists that O. Henry might have rejected as ironically glib, resolutions that are just too pat in their climactic revelations. Then there’s the sledgehammer imagery: A dog’s invisible fence serves as a metaphor for a couple’s sexual transgressions, a potbellied pig in the conjugal bed provides commentary on a husband’s proclivities. And so on.
The wit and the engaging voice in the best of these stories aren’t enough to offset the impression that neither the third nor the second acts of the novelist’s career have fulfilled the promise or equaled the accomplishment of the first.