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 proceed with their affair would be embarrassing, overheated cliché 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.