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Fairytales of New York

The CBC Arts website has a strong profile of Jay McInerney, whose post-9/11 novel, The Good Life, has been getting much press. The piece is notable for its discussion of the changing character of New York City and what that means for fiction. Writes Alec Scott:

Once the inspiration for fresh ideas, the city McInerney depicts at the outset of The Good Life has become stale and insular, doing the same party drugs it did in the ’80s, wearing the same designers to the same outrageously expensive charity events, eating in the same restaurants, engaged in the same tired debates. McInerney’s New York has become the one thing that never seemed possible in its long tumultuous history: a bore, looking backward rather than forward. Although Sept. 11 changes some of McInerney’s characters, they soon revert to their old routines.”

Readers may remember that shortly after the 9/11 attacks, McInerney mused publicly that the “New York novel” would never be the same. That drew an angry rebuttal in The Guardian from the critic James Wood:

There has, of course, been great fiction set or partly set in New York: Melville’s story “Bartleby”, which is set in a Wall Street office; Stephen Crane’s Maggie; The Great Gatsby; the last section of Theodore Dreiser’s novel, Sister Carrie, which rails splendidly against the capitalist inequities of what Dreiser calls “the Walled City”; a chapter of Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night; Henry Roth’s great novel of immigrant life, Call It Sleep; Bellow’s Seize the Day and Mr Sammler’s Planet. Yet as soon as one recalls these novels, it becomes difficult to imagine the precise ways in which they would have been different had they had to accommodate a mutilation of the kind visited upon the city on September 11. And that is partly because they are already dark books, in which the city looms jaggedly. It is only the McInerneys, for whom Manhattan is a tinkle of restaurants, who are suddenly surrounded by the broken glass of their foolish optimism. The pessimist is already ruined, and knows it.

Related links:
Click here for the CBC Arts piece on McInerney
Click here for the 2001 James Wood piece on the Guardian site