Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

brightEvery time I re-read this novel, I love it better. I used to like it mainly because of the second-person narrative, but I’ve read several second-person novels and stories since the last time I re-read Bright Lights, and now I don’t automatically swoon if I see something written in this narrative mode. The book has to be good in itself, as well. And fortunately this is a good book.

The novel’s unnamed protagonist (oh, no, he’s not unnamed – he’s you) is a young man in his twenties, and actually his life is (could be/could have been) quite good: a nice apartment in Manhattan; a prestigious job; parties every night; a beautiful wife; and everything you need to fulfill the American Dream, 1980s edition. But the novel opens when everything is already falling apart: his wife left; the prestigious job doesn’t seem to be secure anymore; and it seems that the „nursing a hangover during the day – going out to party during the night” routine the protagonist has been pursuing is not a way of life you can keep up forever.

While following the desperate, grieving, nameless hero (or nameless ourselves) among the sharply shining skyscrapers of Manhattan, through the elite clubs and bright-or-dodgy streets, you learn what you can of course learn from a whole lot of other novels, but for me, this theme is inexhaustible: you learn how very easy it is to screw things up; and also that there are periods when you can’t see anything clearly because your dreams – which will never come true, or not the way you want them to, or not at the right time – simply blind your vision; and also that being in your twenties can be an awfully melancholy, angry, clueless life period – even if you pretend that you’re having a helluva lot of fun.

And this is not a good novel because the second person narrative somehow brings all this close to me. This is good anyway – sad and beautiful (I just realized now that McInerney can often write with the poignancy and tenderness of F. Scott Fitzgerald); clever and funny; and oh-so-true. It speaks to me more than ever before.