Friday, March 24, 2006

Terrible bad words on 'The Good Life.'

Have you ever been in a bookshop and wondered at the appallingly bad stuff that gets published? I am not merely referring to crimes against reason such as Bob Woodward's "Bush at War" or this gem: " No More Christian Nice Guy: When Being Nice ‑ Instead of Good ‑ Hurts Men, Women And Children." But not animals! Or plants!

You might also think that an established novelist has sufficiently impressed reviewers and the book-buying public to be worth reading. So we turn to an excerpt from The Good Life by Jay McInerney, about Manhattan in the aftermath of Sept. 11th, which time I remember vividly myself.

The two central characters in The Good Life, Corinne and Luke, meet right after the attack and start having an affair while the ruins of the twin towers are still smouldering. My editor's pencil is spinning between my fingers:

"I must be morally defective," Corrine said later, lying in the twisted quilt and playing with his penis as if it were her own new toy, even as she found herself weighing her guilt. "Here I am, wanting you to fuck me again, when bombs are raining down on some poor villagers on the other side of the world. I've been reading about how we're all supposed to be ennobled by this terrible thing [September 11] that's happened, but in the last two months I've started cheating on my husband, lying and scheming in pursuit of my own selfish pleasure. Sending my children away. Running down to [a relief center near Ground Zero] every night, supposedly to perform works of charity but actually exploiting someone else's tragedy."

Couldn't this entire passage have been re-written as:

"I love being naughty," said Corrine.

I did however like the cover art (above). You can't judge a... etcetera.

It is McInerney's sensibility as a writer that is defective here, not merely his writing nor Corinne's morals. Time after time after September 11th 2001 friends and strangers in New York City told me that they were having affairs, that they had never been so promiscuous before, that they were drunk or high and bed-hopping. Guilt came a distant second place to actions that threw caution out the window and made people who had seen gruesome death up close feel alive. Does McInerney not get this? Apparently not -- he's stuck at some infantilist stage where Corinne's being alive is being a nasty, wicked little girl. I bet he gets excited by swimsuits.