by Jay McInerney
Poor Jay McInerney—cursed with the stupendous success of his first novel. Since his 1984 debut with a timely portrait of ’80s-style alienation, Bright Lights, Big City (made into a screen flop starring Michael J. Fox), McInerney has produced three other books. None showed nearly the wattage of Bright Lights. But this latest offering, while no cultural event, is competent and fun to read.
This time, McInerney visits F. Scott Fitzgerald territory. Protagonist Patrick Keane is a poor boy at a rich man’s prep school. His assigned roommate is Will Savage, the son of a southern gentleman farmer. Savage despises his wealthy roots and rebels against the system that Patrick dearly wants to join. The two become close friends, and the book follows them from the mid-’60s to the mid-’90s.
McInerney skillfully draws two poignant portraits in this novel. Savage emerges as an angry, self-destructive but ultimately admirable figure who shows his friend the range of life’s possibilities. Keane discovers that life in the WASP establishment has its disappointments, but that breaking out of society’s mold may be impossible for all but the bravest.
McInerney’s reputation may never again be as bright and big as it was when he first started, but as he convincingly demonstrates here, he is an accomplished writer—and that’s gotta be some consolation (Knopf, $24)