An entertaining, exuberant novel with strong narrative force despite glaring flaws, especially in the book's first half, "Bright, Precious Days" blends satire, vivid characters and soaring language.
The third part of a trilogy examining the enduring marriage of Manhattan denizens Russell and Corrine Calloway, McInerney overcomes patches of clumsy dialogue, several stereotypical characters and implausible plot developments to deliver a novel that achieves emotional depth overall.
Despite the glitches, McIneney's writing moves with an underlying narrative energy that made me reluctant to stop reading even when I was ready for sleep. McInerney reaches the height of his narrative power in the dynamic closing chapters.
McInerney, who identifies himself as a New York wrier, often halts the story for lyrical panegyrics to Manhattan
While he sets scenes in a number of New York restaurants, hotels and neighborhoods, his "telling rather than showing" leaves a disappointing unfulfilled sense of experiencing New York. While I intellectually understood that the book takes place in New York city and environs, I didn't receive a visceral connection to the city's sounds, motion and rhythms.
The wealthy upper East Side characters show few admirable qualities. Their adulteries, self-absorbed obsession with food and physical appearance and greed make for comic moments, some sharp and funny, others flat and overdone.
Even their charitable efforts have an underlying selfish purpose. McInerney describes their sexual escapades with pornographic luridness, at times risking consideration for that "bad sex writing" award. Continuing his fascination with drug abuse that first made his name with his novel "Bright Lights, Big City," he clinically details techniques of snorting cocaine and heroin. He hardly makes drugs glamorous, and addicts suffer severe repercussions.
Although Corrine Calloway dupes her husband with a long extramarital affair, she is the most admirable and memorable character. While Russell, her husband, is supposed to stand with her as a heroic everyman, I found him too bland to satisfactorily fill the protagonist's role.
The book's driving force is nostalgia for a lost, more economically diverse Manhattan, not dominated by wealth and Wall Street financiers.
Russell and Corrine are last members of a vanished New York of artistic and literary aspirations. McInerney's love for that lost era animates the book.
Wondering about the title's bright, precious days, I decided the term referred to that time in New York when young people wanting to be actors, painters or writers flocked to Manhattan, finding a place where they could afford to live and pursue their dreams. "The art and love team," as Russell refers to those pilgrims.
McInerney in the novel sees the dawn of the Obama era as a last flickering of those optimistic times. While elegiac, the novel's fine closing paragraph still sees the possibility of Manhattan's rebirth as a cultural beacon.