Jay McInerney is most famous for his first novel, “Bright Lights, Big City,” a skillfully-written but vapid portrait of a self-pitying young man’s excursions through Manhattan’s cocaine-charged 1980s night life. It was obviously a roman a clef, but he billed it as a novel; so if he’d wanted to make things up, unlike James Frey, he could have. That it was such a boring, obvious narrative can, therefore, only be blamed on McInerney’s underdeveloped imagination. (In your opinion, my grandmother would hasten me to add.)
“Bright Lights, Big City” captured the zeitgeist of the New York media crowd, who recognized themselves or their offspring in it, so it got lots of publicity, sold lots of copies and was eventually made into a meandering movie, for which McInerney wrote the screenplay. I resented McInerney at the time for many reasons — some having to do with envy, but also because he misappropriated the name of a great Jimmy Reed song.
Since then, McInerney wrote other novels that failed to capture any special zeitgeist, but he’s still deemed worth profiling in major media whenever a new one gets published. In this morning’s New York Times Sunday Styles section, we get the usual rehash of dates, drugs, marriages, divorces, depression, recovery and fashion. However, McInerney and one of his ex-wives make a couple of comments I found significant (emphasis added by me):
Mr. McInerney and Ms. Hanson broke up in 1991, and soon after he asked out Ms. Bransford, a jewelry designer from Tennessee. Three months later they married at the Municipal Building in Manhattan. Mr. McInerney published “Brightness Falls” in 1993, and they moved to a farm they bought outside Nashville. The idea was to put New York behind him, but that proved harder than he anticipated.
“I couldn’t quite handle it full time,” he said. “I need to be around Democrats sometimes. I need to get my fix of tuna carpaccio.”
Between Mr. McInerney’s frequent trips back to New York the couple tried unsuccessfully to have children. But in 1994, with donated eggs and a surrogate mother, they had twins just before Mr. McInerney turned 40, a development that, Ms. Bransford said, came as a shock to him.
“He just didn’t know who to be,” she said.
Doesn’t that just sum up why the Democratic party is in such a mess right now?
Democratic rhetoric continues to evoke the time when the party and its ideals reflected the aspirations of the working men and women, the members of industrial unions, the people whose upward mobility was tied to the overall prosperity of the nation. If the day ever came when tuna carpaccio was savored by a Democrat, it would be at a picnic where everybody got to have some, because hard work had made our country rich; not at a restaurant that only trust-funders and lottery winners could afford.
Today, the Democratic party gets associated with the concerns of the cultural elite — fetishists of haute cuisine, riders on the lifestyle tour of America. McInerney’s a perfect symbol. Messy, betrayal-filled love life, abandoned kids, a sudden identity shift from sleek urbanite to farm boy, who then starts to whine about missing those tuna-carpaccio-gulping nights with his Democrat friends. A man secure in the knowledge he can overcome mistakes and changes of heart by carpet-bombing his problems with money — money earned primarily through talking about himself in the media.
There are plenty of Americans whose lives reflect McInerney’s angst about “who to be.” Just not enough of them to elect a president or take over Congress.