Book: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

Recommended by: Chen Chen Zhang

Genre: Contemporary Fiction


Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: In mid–'80s Manhattan, a young man seems to have it all. He works at a prestigious magazine, is married to a model, and spends his nights partying with his hedonist friend Tad. But as we follow him through the course of a week, we realize the crushing emptiness of his life and begin to question whether his job and his relationships actually bring him any sustenance.

The book opens with a scene at a club. Our unnamed narrator is high off coke and barely cognizant of the conversation he’s having with a girl at the bar. His friend Tad, whose mission is to have more fun than anyone else in New York City, has disappeared. And all our narrator can think about is the life he truly wants: one filled with newspapers and croissants in the morning, museums and tennis during the day, and dinner parties and champagne at night.

The imagery continues. We see him at his office, hating his boss. We see him at his apartment, crippled by loneliness that can only be relieved by doing lines of coke. We see him with Tad, going to nightclubs and loft parties and passing out from intoxication. Throughout the week—as his life falls apart around him, as he tries to run farther and faster from the truth—he’ll finally be forced to acknowledge losses in his life and possibly finally find redemption.

The entire novel is written in second person, which is refreshingly different and makes everything more relatable. McInerney’s use of literary devices paints a picture that seems familiar. His description of attending yet another nightclub evokes the same feelings of going to another downtown here at Penn. And let’s not pretend we don’t all have a friend like Tad.

Line that tickled your eyeball (aka good quote): “You keep thinking that with practice you will eventually get the knack of enjoying superficial encounters, that you will stop looking for the universal solvent, stop grieving. You will learn to compound happiness out of small increments of mindless pleasure.”

Who you’d recommend it to: Anyone trying to re–evaluate their social life, Fitzgerald lovers, and those who enjoy feeling bittersweet.


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