At the beginning of Bright Lights, Big City, you may be thinking something like “Do I really want to spend my reading time with a self important coke-sniffer in his early twenties who feels the world owes him a life of fame without having to, you know, actually do anything?” But Jay McInerey manages to make spending time with the unnamed protagonist (the novel is written entirely in second person) surpriginly enjoyable one. Occasionally you even like the guy, his wit is sometimes endearing and, as the story moves along, you can begin to see the humanity behind the quippy hipness.
We meet him as his world is already unraveling. His model wife has left him, his job as a fact checker at a prestigious magazine (based, most likely, on The New Yorker) is teetering on the edge of termination, and the rest of his life consists of all nighters fueled by cocaine and desperate attempts to connect with a real person.
This is a great companion piece to Tama Janowitz's Slaves of New York.?Both were written in the eighties and focus on the young and aimless. Like Slaves, the New York depicted in Bright Lights feels both familiar and dated. The vapid but alluring characters, especially party hopping and amazingly named, Tad Allagash (Kiefer plays him in the movie) are products of their time, but not totally foreign to our world today–just glance at Last Night's Party.
By the end of this quick read, I'd been annoyed, judgemental, humored, and, much to my own surprise, actually touched. The book was a sensation when it was published and, despite a little wear and tear over the years, it's still an effective story of loss and hope in a desultory life.