Book15: "Bright Lights, Big City" by Jay McInerney
“Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerney is a story about a character living in New York City during the mid-1980s. His wife, who he “rescued” from Nowhere, Middle America, has left him after her career as a model takes off in Paris; he works as a fact checker for a prestigious magazine when he’d rather be writing fiction; and he lives a life of cocaine and other drugs with his wild, partying friend, Tad.
What jumped out to me most was the point of view used to narrate the book. I don’t know what the POV is called, but the story is narrated as if you are the main character (i.e. “You are not the kind of guy who would…”). For some people, this might make them feel more connected to the story, and therefore become more invested since it’s them living the fictional life, not some character. It didn’t work that way with me. In fact, it actually bothered me some. It might be my lack of imagination or my lack of empathy, but I couldn’t connect and see myself as this character. I also didn’t like the fact that I felt like the book was telling me how I felt or what I did as if I had no control, a result of the POV used. It might be a little insane, but I wasn’t digging it. After a while, I just blurred out “you” in my mind, and replaced it with “he”, so that the story wasn’t about me; it was about some character who’s name I don’t know.
As far as I’ve been told or could read about “Bright Lights”, it seems to be a book touted in a similar light to that of “The Catcher in the Rye”. It’s somewhat of a coming-of-age story (the main character is in his twenties, but probably less mature than that) starring a main character that experiences a series of crazy events while living (Holden going back to his parents’ house) in New York City. In that respect, yeah, I can see the similarities. Both Holden and the main character are dealing with bad times in their lives, and cope with that in their own way, which isn’t necessarily helpful. The differences came in the “redemption” aspects of the characters. I haven’t read “Catcher” in a while (being deployed, I didn’t have a chance to read it when Salinger died), so I might be wrong, but with Holden, I didn’t really feel like he learned a lesson or came to some realization about the problems in his life that would help him grow and mature as a person. By the end of “Bright Lights”, I thought the main character was starting to grow past the pains and problems of his life. He tried to find release in drugs, in revenge, and he literally ran away from a problem, but by the end, you felt like there was hope from him (trying not to spoil too much). And who doesn’t appreciate that? Most of us are suckers for hope and redemption and (potentially) happy endings, and “Bright Lights” gives just enough of that at the end for you to believe in.
All in all, “Bright Lights, Big City” is a pretty good book. Excluding my distaste for the “you” POV, McInerney does a great job of expressing the mood of the protagonist without blatantly stating it out right, and telling an interesting story in which the protagonist grows and changes. I know that Michael J. Fox starred in an adaptation of the film that seemed to do alright (I’ve never seen it), but if given the proper director and the right starring actor (isn’t that true for all movies??), this story could be made into a great (remade) movie.
For some reason, while I was reading the book, I kept hearing Tears for Fears "Everybody Wants to Rule the World". Hm. Cant explain it.