Into the Abyss

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When Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City was published in 1984, it took the publishing world by storm and earned him permanent membership in the 1980’s club of young edgy writers dubbed “The Brat Pack”.  Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero, American Psycho) was the other founding member.  Bright Lights, Big City follows the emotional, psychological, and spiritual downward spiral of a young would-be writer in the fast-lane of the mid 1980’s Manhattan club scene.  His wife has left him, his job as a fact checker at a prestigious but snooty “New York” magazine oppresses him, and he lives in a cocaine-addled twilight zone.  The first chapter, entitled “It’s 6 AM, Do You Know Where You Are?” begins:

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.  But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.  You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head.  The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge.  All might come clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder.  Then again, it might not.  A small voice in side you insists that this epidemic lack of clarity is a result of too much of that already.

Confessional stories about people on the descent, whether into madness, depression, dissipation, alcoholism, or any other form of self-destruction are a genre unto themselves that was not invented by McInerney.  In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield tells us about his own drive toward that cliff from which he hopes to protect all the children. In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s Esther Greenwood descends into suicidal depression.  In John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas, Ben Sanderson literally drinks himself to death.

What makes McInerney’s novel  unique both then and now is that it is entirely written in second person.  “You,” the reader, are character in the story.  It is a testament to McInerney’s talent that he wrote a whole book in this unusual still and managed to pull it off.

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Doomed Couples

IGoodbye, Columbus by Philip Rothn 1960, Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus won the National Book Award.  The title story of the collection is a novella that tells of the doomed romance between Neil Klugman, a recent college graduate who works in a library and lives in a working class neighborhood in Newark, and Brenda Patimkin, a Radcliff student from an affluent family.  The differences in class, family pressures and the two young lovers slowly forming adult identities cause the relationship to fall apart.  It was one of the first books that formed what I call “The Twenty-Something Genre.”

Seven years later, Mike Nichols turned Charles Webb’s novel The Graduate into a blockbuster movie starring a very young Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock, a young college graduate who is seduced and corrupted by the wife of his father’s law partner, the infamous Mrs. Robinson, played deliciously by Anne Bancroft.  The film captures 1960’s affluent society’s shallowness, best summed up in this memorable exchange:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?

What one word might a contemporary Mr. McGuire whisper to Benjamin? “Derivatives”?

In the end, Ben finds redemption in the love of Elaine, Mrs. Robinson’s daughter and in the final scene we see them escaping on a city bus.  They may be free, but their future is still uncertain as revealed by the uncomfortable expressions on their faces.  As much as we want them to, I can’t actually picture them staying together.

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Indian Summer and Other Stories

Indian Summer and Other Stories

Released: September 23, 2016

Paperback: 226 pages

Available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Smashwords

“This lyrical collection is filled with stories of missed opportunities and heart-breaking losses. Interweaving historical events and recognizable places, these stories illuminate the passions of those who find themselves trapped by circumstances of their own choosing as well as those forced upon them. While mourning their pasts, these fully developed and complex characters face their futures with mixed emotions. Some leave behind toxic relationships while others forsake people to whom they feel indebted.

“The themes explored in this collection are universal: betrayal, fear, love, and loss. Readers will discover the truth in each of these finely wrought stories that “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

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