three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
user_rating: 
0

New and Collected Stories

A-How It EndedA former student of Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff, Jay McInerney rocketed to fame with his debut novel, Bright Lights, Big City (1984), which put him at the center of that decade’s literary "brat pack." McInerney has since written seven novels, two essay collections, and two short story anthologies.

The Story: The 26 stories collected here span McInerney’s 26-year career. They reveal the trajectory of his skill as a writer and showcase his skills at depicting all aspects of society’s experiences. "In the North-West Frontier Province" follows dissolute young Americans as they search for new highs and thrills on the Afghan border with Pakistan in the 1980s. A man arrives home to find his wife in bed with another man in "Invisible Fences." Also included is "It’s Six A.M. Do You Know Where You Are?"—which gave rise to Bright Lights, Big City as well as the continuing sagas of Alison Poole from Story of My Life (1988) and of Russell and Corrine Calloway from Brightness Falls (1992) and The Good Life (2006).
Knopf. 352 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0307268055

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"He possesses the literary naturalist’s full tool kit: empathy and curiosity, a peeled eye and a well-tuned ear, a talent for building narratives at once intimate and expansive, plausible and inventive. His sentences, vivid but unshowy, exhibit the same strengths he once identified in Fitzgerald’s; they are ‘sophisticated without being superior, conspiratorial without the gossip’s malice.’" Sam Tanenhaus

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Without losing his early jokey way with language or his ironic wit, he finds new depths of understanding. … There is a phrase in the final story, ‘The Last Bachelor,’ that could not have appeared in his first story—‘like scenes constructed from pixels’—and the nervous sense of endless possibilities has been replaced by a calm sense of acceptance, but the voice remains essentially the same—smart-alecky but wise, straight up but enamored with the clever turn of phrase, a keen observer living up to the classic Henry James definition of a writer: a person upon whom nothing is lost." Mark Lindquist

Houston Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As this new collection stylishly demonstrates, McInerney writes with elegance and wit. … Some of these adulterers and flibberty-gibbets overstay their welcome in our imaginations, even in the short form, but other protagonists, flawed though they certainly are, have more resonance and heart." Robert Cremins

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"‘Madonna of Turkey Season,’ a rather aborted tale of brothers competing to bring home the loveliest holiday guest, is littered with too many towns and prep school names, details which will be lost on some readers and, ultimately, to time. … McInerney’s characters are engaging because they are continually falling into a trap that even their wealth cannot protect them from: They cannot tell the difference between living fully and living without limits." John Freeman

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"His stories have grown more elegant, subtle, shapely and reflective over time, to the point where some of the recent works are perfect specimens. He has quietly achieved the literary stature to which he once so noisily laid claim." Janet Maslin

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"The collection reunites 26 stories written over 26 years, though you may not notice much of a progression; without the ever-abundant cultural markers and brand names, you would be hard pressed to identify a story as, say, ‘late McInerney.’ You do, however, get to know his pet obsessions—sexual infidelity, wealth and fame, cocaine—and for the most part, it doesn’t feel repetitive." Alexander Cuadros

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"McInerney’s best novels are more exacting than they let on, and by their standard Ended has a disappointing amount of excess fat. Yet in presenting a story set as something immediate and satisfying, a meal for a glutton, it also responds to a problem with the system. It’s fun." Theo Schell-Lambert

Critical Summary

Compared by critics to such literary giants as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, J. D. Salinger, and Graham Greene, McInerney has demonstrated impressive depth and range over the last three decades, and most critics valued How It Ended as a record of McInerney’s evolution as a writer. Retaining his mordant humor and panache alongside hard-won wisdom and maturity, McInerney dissects the ambitions and excesses of youth as they yield to the limitations and moderation of middle age. He revisits his signature themes—drugs, infidelity, and social climbing—and creates likeable, if self-absorbed, characters. Though the San Francisco Chronicle claimed that the newer stories felt rushed and other reviewers were annoyed by McInerney’s fascination with name brands and labels, How It Ended should please fans and newcomers alike.

Also by the Author

Bright Lights, Big City (1984): A young, would-be writer, seemingly fixed on self-destruction after the breakup of his marriage to a fashion model, slips into drugs and decadence in 1980s Manhattan.