June 23, 2010

Bright Lights, Big City and You

You've been meaning to read Jay McInerney's BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY for years, ever since hearing that it's written in the second person. You were intrigued, understandably. Point of view in fiction has always been an area of interest, and you might be described as a sucker for narrative gimmicks.

While preparing for a trip to Manhattan, you entertained romantic fantasies of reading a novel set in New York during your stay. You forgot, as you always do, that you never manage to read while traveling, and that at best, you might get through a few chapters on the plane before falling asleep. You brought an optimistic two novels and didn't even open them, so it wasn't until after your return that you finally started BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY.

The second-person narration was strange at first. You kept stopping to stare at that word and analyze how it made you feel to be cast in the role of a coke-fueled, miserable young guy in early '80s New York. But these days you always focus too much on the words at the beginning of a book. When the writing is good -- and in this case it is -- you get pulled into the story soon enough.

Still, even as you were enjoying the breakneck ride through nightclub debauchery and the contrasting sobriety of a respected magazine's Department of Factual Verification, you did keep thinking about the effect. Were you drawn closer to the narrator and his muddled thoughts because the novel said that he was you? Or were you kept at a greater distance by a character in denial who refused to call himself "I"? You feel it's both at once somehow, and that it works for the story, and that you're glad you aren't a real book reviewer so you don't have to think about it harder than that.

You could never be a real book reviewer.


Anna Scott Graham said...

I could never be a book review either. There was no way to write that in second person... :)))

But I'm all for stretching the limits of the craft, for there are only so many ways to write a story; beginning, middle, end. So to mix it up, I'm all over it! I'll probably not read this novel, mostly just not my genre, but kudos to McInerney. And to you for reading it, then writing such a clever review...

Karen said...

My first thought was "I haven't been meaning to read that book, I've never even heard of it." And then in the second paragraph I got it. I suspect the book itself would take some adjustment too.

What an excellent review. :)

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