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5.0 out of 5 stars A truly bright star in the firmament
This novel falls just short of the American classics Huck Finn, Sun Also Rises, Gatsby, Holden Caufield, True Grit. MacInerney captured being young in New York in the 80's which means he captured being young and confused for all times. The smell of bread in the beginning brings you to the smell of bread at the end. The only other author who comes this close to sensory...
Published on Feb. 12 2005 by ThomsEBynum

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overrated, mediocre.
Well, contrary to the stereotype, here's a pretty anti-Bright Lights review from a New Yorker. I found the book a mildly amusing, but very shallowly rendered, portrait of a very specific time, place, profession, and lifestyle. McInerey seems undecided about exactly what he is undertaking. At times the book is straight satire, at times real tragedy. And the genres blend...
Published on June 29 2000 by Tom Helleberg


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Superficial and tired, Sept. 3 2003
By 
Robert Bezimienny (Sydney, NSW Australia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bright Lights, Big City (Paperback)
This novel reads much like an entertaining article in a magazine; it's light, with little insight into the human condition or, more specifically, into the psyches of the central characters. The word surface has a gloss, which is pleasant enough, but which falls far short of sustaining repeated readings. It is disposable literature, masquerading as something more permanent.
*
The protagonist identifies himself swiftly as enjoying an elite, Ivy League, background, with an accompanying modest cushion of wealth. His talents and, more desperately, his potential are hailed as grand and admirable. His interest in literature, in particular, is implicitly cited as rescuing and validating his moral worth. All this is somewhat tiresome and self-satisfied, and does recall the basic scenario of Catcher in the Rye (for better or for worse). Unlike in that alleged classic, here the author feels obliged to explain the protagonist's lack of direction, and he does so clumsily, resorting to a poorly realised appeal to grief.
*
The minor characters fair still less well. Amanda, the prodigal model cum wife, is empty and vacuous - no attempt is made into fathoming how or why this might be so. Similarly, Tad, an accomplice in drugs and clubbing, is rendered flatly. The surface might well be amusing, or even alluring, but in a novel one could expect more than what could be provided in the space of a thirty second television commercial (and that's all that's offered).
*
The eighties in New York might have been interesting in some sense, but the source of that interest remains opaque after reading this ultimately rather dull book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overrated, mediocre., June 29 2000
By 
This review is from: Bright Lights, Big City (Paperback)
Well, contrary to the stereotype, here's a pretty anti-Bright Lights review from a New Yorker. I found the book a mildly amusing, but very shallowly rendered, portrait of a very specific time, place, profession, and lifestyle. McInerey seems undecided about exactly what he is undertaking. At times the book is straight satire, at times real tragedy. And the genres blend like oil and water in BLBC, each undermining the other and leaving the book without foundation. Admittedly, there are very moving passages (very late in the book), where McInerey seems to have decided which direction he'd like to take, but by then the damage is done. His use of the second-person makes the story feel partially formed. While he doesn't use the POV poorly, it is inherently flawed in that the reader is invited to bring more of him or herself into the novel, only to find a clash with the story told. Because of this it feels more a novelty device than a means of rendering the protagonist an everyman.
The final flaw of the book is the target of its criticism. One review claimed that the book was dead on satire of "the MBA set" (or something to this effect), missing the point entirely that it is not the MBA set being satirized. Rather, there are a hodge-podge of targets: Ivy League literati, ad men, models, designers, Rastas, Hasidim, Greek diner owners and Greek gigolos--all told about half of New York. Thus McInerey's barbs seem thrown wild as buckshot at a skeetshoot and come across as one-liners about 1980s stereotypes. For a much better, and better focused, work of 80s satire, see Ellis's American Psycho (which -is- aimed at the MBA set and which uses deliberate, stylized, shallow representation).
Not a timeless book.
Frankly, I'm a little surprised it outlived its decade of origin.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Brightly lit, March 7 2007
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME)    (TOP 10 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Bright Lights, Big City (Paperback)
"Here you go again. All messed up and no place to go."

That line sets the tone for "Bright Lights, Big City." Jay McInerney's bestselling debut stands above other urban-angst novels of the time, which tended to go with shock value. Instead, McInerney experimented with second-person narratives and a vision of a fragmented, coke-dusted New York.

"You" are a young man living in New York, and wife Amanda has recently left you for a French photographer she met on a modelling shoot. Understandably you are depressed and unhappy, and the loss of Amanda haunts your moods, especially when her lawyer urges you to sue her for "sexual abandonment," even though you don't want a divorce.

By day, you work in the fact-checking department of a prestigious magazine, where your malignant boss is getting tired of you. By night, you halfheartedly prowl clubs with your pal Tad, doing drugs and meeting women you care nothing for. Will you be able to move past your problems and become happy again?

Consider that summary a little slice of what "Bright Lights, Big City" sounds like -- the reader is the main character, which allows the reader to slip into another's skin for a brief time. Second-person narratives are often annoying, but McInerney's style is so starkly compelling that the little narrative trick pays off.

The New York of "Bright Lights, Big City" is basically a big, glitzy, hollow place, but still strangely appealing. And McInerney adds splinters of reality here and there, like the tattooed girl and Coma Baby, which add to the gritty you-are-there feel of the novel itself. His dark sense of humour comes out in "your" thoughts: "your" boss resembles "one of those ageless disciplinarians who believe that little boys are evil and little girls frivolous, that an idle mind is the devil's playground."

And while many trendy novels of the time relied on shock value and obnoxious characters, McInerney keeps it low-key. The young man is likable and sympathetic, despite his tendency towards self-pity. And the people around him -- the self-absorbed Amanda, likable Tad and nasty "Clingwrap" -- seem surprisingly realistic, as well as the minor people who flit in and out of our hero's vision.

"Bright Lights, Big City" has gained a reputation as a trendy urban novel of the 1980s. Too bad. Though the trendiness has worn off, McInerney's style and story are still worth reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A truly bright star in the firmament, Feb. 12 2005
This novel falls just short of the American classics Huck Finn, Sun Also Rises, Gatsby, Holden Caufield, True Grit. MacInerney captured being young in New York in the 80's which means he captured being young and confused for all times. The smell of bread in the beginning brings you to the smell of bread at the end. The only other author who comes this close to sensory reproduction and getting to the "heart" is Jackson McCrae (think his BARK OF THE DOGWOOD or his CHILDREN'S CORNER with their incredible descriptions et al. The people and situations are as true to the rules of reality as fiction can be. And the walk that you and Tad's cousin take through the Village is most fetching indeed. The bricks and wooden Dutch shoes at the end of the book point beautifully to the Dutch sailor's eyes that first contemplated this continent at the end of Gatsby. The only problem I have with the book is it's a little too New Yorker, polished fiction--he never let loose the reins. Still, this is a fantastic piece of fiction, nay, history, and should be read by everyone.
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3.0 out of 5 stars cocaine decisions, July 7 2004
By 
"jmhayes108" (Dublin, Ireland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bright Lights, Big City (Paperback)
In this supposedly zeitgeist novel of the '80's we see a protagonist who incorporates the essence of that decade: hedonism, urbanity, wealth, cocaine-fuelled nightlife in a competitive social minefield. Coming to think of it, not alot has changed really. Speaking in the second person singular, the writer is following himself around New York as though singing an extended version of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" by David Bowie.

The structure is innovative and the tone is innane and babbling at times, which reflects our coke-head heroes mentality perfectly. Anything to drown out the sorrow beneath. From his rash decisions to the reasons behind his nihilistic spiral, all questions are answered slowly.
It may seem like I am slating this book but I am not. He is describing a character who is a complete mess. It would be criminal to give cerebral insights and flowery desciptions about such a sullen, defunct lifestyle. Yet pity grows for him as his unfortunate past is revealed. For anyone who has lost someone close to them, his passage of loss is a touching and painful reminder.
It was once described as the Trainspotting of the '80s. Perhaps in an obvious drugs/dilemmas/adventures kind of way, but this novel is more about one man who is a heretic of a scene rather than of how or why a scene works. He is not from a poor background, he is not unemployed, he is not living in a dreary council estate in middle fof Sotland. It is too personal to be considered a social commentary and its singular tragedy surpasses even those of Welsh's protagonists.
So overall, not a fantastic book, not something to bring on holidays, not something to cheer you up, not essentially something to learn from, as the heroes coping mechanisms leave a lot to be desired. A tale of self-indulgent decadence and why. Certainly a book to read at some time in your life. It has its time.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Ferret Incident was about my college professor!, July 1 2004
This review is from: Bright Lights, Big City (Paperback)
Believe it or not, my College Professor for English Composition 201 was the roommate of Jay McInerney, the author of this book, when they both lived in New York City! I was forced to read this for that class and in the course, found out a bit about the author and his life before the book. On page 109, the incident about releasing the ferret into Clara's office was about an incident that actually happened to my professor, in fact, I have seen the scars on his hand! He tells me that ferrets have VERY sharp, hard teeth. Both my professor (to protect his privacy he will remain nameless) and Jay McInerney worked for a magazine in the Department of Factual Verification.
But to get to my review, I must say this was not one of my favorite books. Like my review of Saul Bellow's "Seize the Day", I found this book to be depressing. Also, both characters have drug addictions, are separated from their wives, have lost or are losing their jobs and have major issues with their parents.
However, the interesting aspect of this book is that it is told from "second person perspective" meaning that the author never gives a name to the main character, his is simply known as "You". An example: "You are both in high spirits. You have decided that you are better off without that p***-ant job, that it is a good thing you got out when you did." The book is almost as if it is about the reader, as if the book is talking to the reader. I like that it is an interesting new twist on story telling.
The basic plot is that You is a fact checker for a magazine in New York City, he slacks off in his job and is about to be fired for submitting an article that he didn't check. You is a cocaine addict and is fueled on by his incidious friend Tad Allagash, an incurable player. You was married to Amanda, a midwest girl-turned model who went to Paris and never came back. You is struggling with his life in general, he once wanted to be a writer but all ambition is gone. You also has Mom issues, she died of cancer before he ever got to know her and he has regretted it ever since. You also feels trapped, his is at times overcome with the desire to escape his life, jump out a window and fly away. His apartment is unkempt, he parties too much, forgets too many things and cannot get over Amanda in order to have a healthy relationship. Also, there are references throughout the book to an article about a pregnant mother in a coma and speculation as to whether she will live long enough to extract the child alive. This is an allusion to You, he still feels as if he cannot cut the cord that ties him to his mother, he is caught between life and death, existence and nonexistence.
To live, You must overcome his problem of settling for cheap imitations, his love for women who are never coming back, his reliance on drugs as an escape from life and surpass the shock of his mother's death. You also must find a way to trade his fast-paced, empty life for reality, we see allusions to this in the end. Altogether, this is not a bad book. But, it had a rather depressing effect on me and is full of the seediness of life in New York in the 1980's.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a very very good one, June 1 2004
This review is from: Bright Lights, Big City (Paperback)
Once in a while, a book surfaces that can deliver a stronger message than most novels, yet retain a contemporary sense. This book is one of the few. As our narrator wanders around from party to party, we eventually find that he is not lost, and not ever wandering, but running. This narrator is a little boy in a big city, and he took life on too fast and he lost control. Also the fact that he is obviously depressed is not helping him. People who hate this book, hate it because they cannot see how this man is unsatisfied with his life. wake up, that is the point OUR NARRATOR CAN NOT SEE WHY HE IS NOT SATISFIED WITH HIS LIFE. Our main man has an empty space inside him, and the whole novel he tries to fill it, unsuccessfully. Eventually he wakes up to the world, and the smell of fresh baked bread, but no more shall be said. Read it. The 2nd person is interesting, and I honestly dont know what to make of it. But nonetheless it is a fantastic book. And I think everyone can find a peice of this character inside him/her...oh wait, maybee that is why it is in the 2nd person...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely perfect, May 25 2004
This review is from: Bright Lights, Big City (Paperback)
This book is sheer beauty. Jay McInerney has ineffably captured the rogue spirit and disillusionment of the decadent 1980s, and has honed a sincere, manic story that defines an indelible era of American history.
The protagonist of the story is yourself, and McInerney's deft and forceful use of the second-person narrative gives the story an added emotional punch. As a factual verificationist at a reputable New York magazine, you shuffle through a self-purported banal existence, wallowing in your misery for Amanda, your model wife who has abruptly left you for equivocal reasons. Your ultra-hip and hedonist friend Tad Allagash has your back though, and leads the way through New York City's finest, most dissolute settlements where you find solace in the embrace of various self-forgetting debaucheries.
Read this novel right now. I have just finished it and I am thinking of reading it again. This is how good it is. It is short, possibly the only carp I can muster from it, and you will be done with it and wanting more before the impact even sinks in.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Its Length Only Makes it Better., Oct. 25 2003
By 
Olivier (Montreal, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bright Lights, Big City (Paperback)
The first thirty pages in Jay McInerney's novel Bright Lights, Big City are intense. It's six in the morning, the main character is wandering high on coke through a club and his only friend is no where in sight. When he finally leaves disorientated and without enough cab fare to get home, he is hit with the crippling morning sunlight and the painful realization that he left his shades at home. Picture a comic reel where a man stumbles towards the light at the end of a dark tunnel dodging bald women, men in drag and tiny Bolivian soldiers and you will get a sense of how this story begins. The writing style grabbed me from the first page. The novel is written in the second person so as the reader you are the main character, "all messed up with no place to go" (10) reacting to life with a smart mouth.
I love the prose in this novel, especially in the sense that I find the main character's disheartened quips entertaining. My favorite passage so far is, "GRANNY CRUSHED BY NUT WHILE WIMPS WATCH" (13) where the main character furiously debates whether or not to help an old woman in distress. It intrigued me to realize that most of the scenes I was chuckling at were painfully unfunny. He laughs about his blow problem, the feelings he still has for his estranged wife and the job he hates; this seems like foreshadowing to me. I sympathize with the main character because I get the feeling that all the terrible things he jokes about will eventually happen and then life will hit him harder than he can imagine. I like that and I look forward to observing how he recovers, if he does at all. Either way, I'm hooked.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Underrated Classic!, July 29 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Bright Lights, Big City (Paperback)
"Bright Lights, Big City" is a short book and reads very quickly. I think this is one of the reasons many critics feel justified in dismissing it. You can read this novel in an afternoon, and perhaps BLBC's digestibility works against it; critics tend to take this slim, sometimes breezy work far too lightly.
I am often mystified at the sneering dismissals. What is the objection, exactly? The sophistication of BLBC's prose is something that is hard to argue with: there are lovely sentences and phrases on every page, and the wit is finely modulated, often tempered with a note of scarcely-contained despair. The protagonist is in such spiritual agony that the jokes are never merely flippant; it hurts to laugh when someone is this far down, although laughter is necessary to leaven the starkness of the situation.
Maybe some people were turned off by McInerney's use of the second person. When the character is "you," the reader is inevitably going to be aware of a certain friction between their own values/character and the narrator's. What saves BLBC's second-person voice from gimmickry is that the story is universal; we have all, at some point, been at the cusp of a far-reaching disaster, when every moment feels like borrowed time and we live in the dead-zone interstices between day and night. The situation is identifiable; ergo, the second-person is not only seamless -- it is insidious, conspiratorial. Yes, McInerney made a risky choice, but he sustains the "you" conceit very skillfully.
What makes BLBC so successful is that it eschews self-indulgence, easy satire, obsessive autobiography. In short, it avoids the usual flaws of the first novel. Instead, it is characterized by modesty and generosity. Generosity is particularly needed by the protagonist, a cocaine-addicted fringe player on New York's literary scene. His life is on the verge of total catastrophe, and he has adopted a fatalistic attitude toward his inevitable unraveling: he doesn't have the energy to try to stop himself from falling.
What results is a lost weekend that begins in puerile self-gratification and ends on a note of hope. McInerney doesn't treat his emasculated yuppie with contempt, which is the first instinct with second-rate novelists, filmmakers etc. Instead, he takes the courageous route: he looks at his protagonist's life as a symptom of a wider affliction and indicates a path out of the wilderness.
BLBC isn't perfect -- the last twenty or thirty pages turn on a rather unconvincing revelation. McInerney seems to feel the need to give us a single explanation why his protagonist's life is in such disarray. But the "explanation" for the narrator's downfall was already implicit and entirely convincing; you could imagine yourself coming to the same pass given similar circumstances: good money, wilting ideals, a bad marriage, and a steady decline in ambition and prospects. The revelation, which I won't give away, weakened the book significantly, but not enough to make it any less than a minor classic. "Bright Lights, Big City" is an original, compassionate and wickedly funny riff on a decade that deserves to be re-examined, reviled, but never, never relived.
Also recommended: THE LOSERS' CLUB by Richard Perez
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Bright Lights, Big City
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney (Paperback - Aug. 12 1984)
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