Of all the things that the world could do with a few hundred thousand less of, stories about naval-gazing, drug-using Manhattanite writers written by naval-gazing, drug-using Manhattanite writers should be amongst the first to be tossed in the fire.
There seems to be vast swathes of literature these days that stick firmly to the advice “write what you know” and now all the characters that get the good lines, the funny thoughts and the enviable (if woefully tricky and tortured) lifestyles just so happen to writers. They’re all playwrights, poets, novelists, journalists, screenwriters – and it’s beyond tedious.
These stories are all likely to be influenced – be it directly or indirectly – by Jay McInerney, arguably the man who made this whole thing fashionable with his novel Bright Lights, Big City. Yet should the proposed cull take place, McInerney himself might just survive the cut.
Though plentiful crimes have been committed in his name, McInerney should not necessarily be held responsible for them all (much in the same way that Bram Stoker shouldn’t be held culpable for every single half-arsed vampire story doing the rounds at the moment). And when he is divorced from the boring, unimaginative trend that he started, his stories do actually have some real merit.
The collection’s opener, Sleeping With Pigs, is a fine story. It treads no new ground in its broad subject matter, but it does possess an individual and distinctive twist that makes the well-told tale of marital disharmony a worthwhile read.
The same can be said, to a lesser extent, of the second story – I Love You, Honey. Though the serious subject matter the story is set against has changed, it is essentially about two similar-yet-somehow-different characters having a similar-yet-somehow-different romantic crisis.
However, when the protagonist of the third story is revealed to be a playwright and then both of the characters in the fourth story also turn out to be writers (ones who do such insufferably, unforgivably twattish things like ordering “Kettel One and tonic” – which sounds like literary product placement) you really do start to question if he’s capable of writing a lead character who doesn’t share his profession.
Thankfully he does change tack as the stories progress and it is exponentially refreshing when he does. Never before has a story about a voyeuristic fetishist provided such a welcome switch of pace in a short story collection, but the fear that he too is going to end up enjoying some sideline in writing – maybe blogging about his sexual exploits – is never far from your mind.
Ultimately, if you like this style of writing – and in these small doses it can be witty, acerbic and truly fantastic - then there is much to enjoy here. But even if you are McInerney’s biggest fan, you’ll probably want to take a good long break between stories as it all tends to be rather samey.
And for those who would roll their eyes, tut, and say “OF COURSE THEY’RE ALL THE SAME! THAT’S THE ENTIRE POINT!”. If that is true, then I say this:
The point has been made. Good job, Jay. You can stop now.