Published by Knopf
Publication date: August 2nd 2016
Russell and Corrine Calloway move in all the right circles, but at the grand banquet that is New York society they’re seated at the children’s table. Yes, Russell owns his company, but it’s a publishing firm and while it has cachet it doesn’t have much cash. They live at an enviable address downtown, but in a cramped loft with one bathroom for four people. When Bright, Precious Days opens Russell is enjoying a bump in his literary success with a talented young author he’s just signed. It’s the heady days in the late aughts when the trauma of 9/11 has passed and the crash of 2009 is yet to come. Author Jay McInerney brings Russell and Corrine back from his previous novel, Brightness Falls, and ushers them into the angst of middle-age.
You can’t write a novel set in Manhattan without location coming into play and McInerney makes it the quiet crux of Bright, Precious Days. For the Calloways it’s a pressing issue, as their apartment is going condo and the cash to buy-in will be difficult to obtain. For Russell there is no choice
What he wanted to say was that being a resident not only of Manhattan but of downtown was an irreducible core of his identity. He was as much—if not more—a New Yorker as those who found themselves born here through the accident of birth…he and his tribe of restless striving immigrants from the provinces and the farthest corners of the earth, who’d ben inexorably drawn here and had made the city their own, who’d shaped it and been shaped by it.
If location defines you, then it is likely you’ll go to great lengths to maintain this identity and Russell does. What has always been black and white becomes grey as he maneuvers to hold onto the man he’s always thought he was. Truth and beauty are walloped by crass commerce.
Corrine’s challenges are different. Namely, the return of a man she met after 9/11 and with whom she had an affair. Wildly wealthy, he wants to rekindle their relationship and change her life. As Russell and Corrine’s stories gain momentum, their whirlpool widens to include their children, family, and friends. From a slightly trashy sister who was the egg donor for their twins and can’t seem to keep quiet about it, to dear friends having affairs with other dear friends the plot eddies and swirls. McInerney keeps it from becoming a soap opera with enough introspection to give Bright, Precious Days some depth.
If you’ve never experienced the lure of Manhattan in fiction (aka Swans of Fifth Avenue, The Darlings, And Sons to name a few) then Bright, Precious Days may seem overwrought. These are people living life in ways most of us don’t and so when things go wrong, they go really wrong. It is not just Russell and his pretensions, McInerney explores the whole New York experience through each of his characters’ lives. It may not always feel relatable, but the what-ifs, what-nows, and what-thens of marriage and friendship at middle age strike a very real note.