Skip to main content

Jay McInerneyMichael Lionstar

Jay McInerney is the author of seven previous novels, including Bright Lights, Big City, as well as a collection of short stories and three non-fiction books about wine. His latest novel, Bright, Precious Days, the third in a trilogy about Russell and Corrine Calloway that began in 1992 with Brightness Falls and continued in 2006's The Good Life, was recently published by Knopf.

Why did you write your new book?

My new novel, Bright, Precious Days, was written as a response to the financial crisis of 2008 and the election of President Obama that fall. It's the third novel I've written featuring Russell and Corrine Calloway and their circle of friends, who first appeared in Brightness Falls as a young glamorous couple making their mark in New York City in the later Reagan years. That novel was set against the backdrop of the stock market crash of 1987; more than a decade later, I resurrected these characters in The Good Life, which was set in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers. The new book had its genesis with an image of Russell and Corrine and their friends watching the election returns in November, 2008, in their loft in Tribeca; a moment of great hope, but also of high anxiety, given the fact that the world financial system seemed to be melting down.

Which book got you through the darkest period of your life?

P.G. Wodehouse's The Code of the Woosters. I was clinically depressed for most of 1999 and I would turn to Wodehouse, possibly the funniest writer in the English language. It seemed to be more effective at warding off despair than the antidepressants that I was taking.

Which books have you reread most in your life?

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Both seem nearly perfect in their construction, and both writers are master stylists.

What's your favourite bookstore in the world?

Three Lives, in Greenwich Village, which takes its name from the Gertrude Stein collection of novellas. My first apartment in Manhattan was just around the corner and I would browse there frequently, always finding something that I wanted to buy. It's a small independent bookstore with a wonderfully curated selection of literary fiction and non-fiction and it was the site of my very first reading as an author. On the publication date of my first novel, Bright Lights, Big City, I read to a capacity audience – probably about 40 people, as much as could fit in the tiny space – with my mentor Raymond Carver, who read from his new collection of short stories, Cathedral. I still go there almost every week, though I have heard rumours that it may be moving or closing, which I'm hoping aren't true. It's been my bookstore for 35 years.

What's the best sentence you've ever written?

Certainly one of the best sentences I ever wrote was the first sentence of my first novel: "You're not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning." It's seems to me both humorous and rueful and it establishes the second-person interior monologue that I somehow sustained for an entire novel. Or maybe it sustained me. I still find it hard to believe that I wrote it down about 5 in the morning, whacked out of my mind after coming home from a nightclub, having noticed, in my deranged state, my own interior monologue.