two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-TheGoodLifeThe Calloways and the McGavocks, two privileged New York couples, attend to quotidian matters—a dinner party, a society gala, hungry kids, and failing relationships—on a clear, bright September day in 2001. Then the planes strike the twin towers. That sets everything in motion for Corrine Calloway and Luke McGavock to meet and connect while working the night shift at Ground Zero. In the face of the harrowing tragedy, everything changes. Or does it?
Knopf. 353 pages. $25. ISBN: 0375411402

Seattle Times 3 of 5 Stars
"No international politics or eccentric characters complicate these entwined stories of family upheaval; if the author is aiming to reach a broad, unsophisticated American population, with his tale of Sept. 11 New York, he has succeeded. … His characters, all-American pasteurized versions of New Yorkers, are rendered tenderly, with the same polish and erudition he has previously devoted to satire and to more eccentric, complex characterization." Skye K. Moody

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The Good Life isn’t a bad novel or a gratuitous one; it’s just not as good or as deep as it might have been." Gail Caldwell

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The Good Life … is at its most powerful in chronicling its characters’ romantic and familial travails, and at its most ham-handed in its attempts at social satire. … Part of it aspires to create an F. Scott Fitzgerald-esque romance, and part sags to the level of a Judith Krantz tale about the rich and overprivileged, grotesquely set against the backdrop of 9/11." Michiko Kakutani

Oregonian 2.5 of 5 Stars
"McInerney fumbles his ambitions with his handling of the details. Any glimpse he manages to give us of real human frailty and hope is countered by long passages that fall back on the banal clichés of standard soap opera." Damian Kilby

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"With a little additional time for reflection, McInerney might have conceived a more resonant fictional use of the literal horrors in Lower Manhattan. Instead, he’s turned them into a Hitchcockian MacGuffin, a crowd-gathering catalyst to draw attention to the novel’s real subject, an oddly listless and unappealing adulterous affair." Paul Gray

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"Once disaster strikes, however, irony and humor are not too much to be seen … and the catastrophe begins to seem more and more tangential, a romantically tragic backdrop." Dan Chaon

Critical Summary

Literary playboy Jay McInerney earns mixed reviews here. Most glaringly, his novel is not about the 9/11 tragedy, though much of the buzz around the book focuses on the setting. The adulterous affair sparked in the dust of the towers occupies center stage, but most critics disparage the romance as sappy, hackneyed, and embarrassing. Some reviewers praise McInerney’s writerly maturity in developing these rich New Yorkers. But it’s not a consistent portrayal. "The novel is a bizarre mix of the genuinely moving and the trashily facile, the psychologically astute and the ridiculously clichéd," writes Michiko Kakutani. If you can take the good with the bad, this Life may be for you.

Also by the Author

Bright Lights, Big City (1984): McInerney’s best-selling debut novel captures the zeitgeist of Manhattan’s glitz, clubs, and drugs in the 1980s.