Jay Came to Town

Alameda Sun, 3.2.2006
Jay McInerney
Jay McInerney came to town last Friday night. He strolled down Park Street into Books Inc. with his publicist and his girlfriend and did a reading of his latest novel, The Good Life. He commanded a decent crowd with a TV camera recording all the way through the question and answer session.

McInerney catapulted to fame in the literary community — and notoriety in the New York party scene — in 1984 with the success of his debut novel Bright Lights, Big City. He has written nine books since then: seven novels, a collection of short stories and a collection of essays on wine from his work at House & Garden magazine. Dressed in a black turtleneck, black blazer, and blue jeans, McInerney had that look of someone famous. His deep blue eyes conveyed a certain glibness, a “been there, done that, oh-how-I-miss-those-days” attitude combined with an air of indifference. The tinted reading glasses added a twist—a nod to his age, but still cool. What’s the hardest thing about book tours? “Morning TV,” he said.

The Good Life traces the lives of several New York couples immediately following the tragedy of 9/11. McInerney noted that the book is really about reassessing your life when tragedy hits. He said that he hopes the book taps into a new layer of sadness and emotional depth “we all took away from [9/11].”

McInerney spent time working in the soup kitchens set up for the disaster relief workers near Ground Zero, where much of the events in his book take place. He recalled that he found it difficult to write during this period, but knew that he would write about his experiences some day.

During the Q&A at Books Inc., McInerney fielded many questions about whether the changes that took place in people have lasted in the five years since the disaster. He noted that time does play a part in lessening the impact, but the intentions were there. “I imagined that I’d always be my best self after that. It’s sad that the moment faded,” he told the crowd.

When asked what he thought was the biggest change in himself, he replied: “I got a large dose of humility. I was a little short on that before 9/11.”

Two of the central characters in this novel have been following him around. “The ones in this book have followed me since 1986 when I first wrote about them in a short story called “Smoke” published in The New Yorker,” he explained. They also served as the main characters in his own personal favorite of his published books, Brightness Falls.

McInerney noted that he has tried to be a better person since 9/11, and considers himself definitely a better father. His boy/girl twins were born in November 1994 and he spends a considerable amount of time with them. He also says that he tried to live more in the moment, relishing special wines in his wine collection, for example, instead of letting them sit in a wine cellar.

A soft-spoken gray-haired woman in the crowd during the Q&A asked: “Are you still a bad boy?” and he blushed. That made him so real and vulnerable, and not quite the persona he carries around with him. He answered, after a beat, “Not nearly as much as I used to be.” And then, “As bad as you can be past 40 with two kids.”

But he seemed to want to reassure the crowd that he’s grown up a bit, that he’s lived through experiences that have given his life some meaning by adding, “I’ve morally improved since the 80’s.”

After signing what seemed like hundreds of extra copies of The Good Life, McInerney and his small entourage headed out of town. They had reservations at Chez Panisse in Berkeley they had to keep.

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