October 03, 1988 12:00 PM

by Jay McInerney

It’s a free country. If someone wants to write a novel about, say, a herd of pigs that spend most of their time wallowing about and that occasionally walk from one side of their pen to the other, he should be able to do it. By the same token, McInerney should be allowed to write a novel like this one about a bunch of vacuous New York pre-yuppies who mostly loll around in stupors, occasionally moving from one drug-saturated apartment to another. The question is whether anyone else should care about it. McInerney’s third novel—after Bright Lights, Big City and Ransom—is about a 20-year-old girl, Alison Poole, who is halfheartedly studying acting but wholeheartedly avoiding doing anything interesting. She and her idle friends share a devotion to cocaine, sex and sponging off their parents and employed friends; they are all as sensitive as your average cinderblock. Since they are also as hip as Home Shopping Network and as insightful as a bunch of bananas, they are not left with many redeeming features. While McInerney’s writing has a rhythmic energy, he is inflating what might have been a decent short story into a 188-page book. His fictional subculture is never convincing; none of his wildly promiscuous cast is even mildly concerned about AIDS, for instance. McInerney resorts to a preposterous dramatic event to pep up the action. And as if in desperation for distinctive qualities to ascribe to Alison, he has her constantly use the phrase “in lust”—as in “I am in lust”—and refer to people as “units” (“She is not a happy unit”). Having a stultifyingly boring main character doesn’t work too well when all the other characters are stultifyingly boring too. When one of them throws himself out of a window, it’s hard to avoid shouting at the book: “Hey, good idea, you guys! Why doesn’t everybody else try it too!” (Atlantic, $16.95)

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