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Jay McInerney Biography

Nationality: American. Born: Hartford, Connecticut, 1955. Education: Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, B.A. 1976; Syracuse University, New York. Career: Reporter, Hunterdon Country Democrat, Flemington, New Jersey, 1977; editor, Time-Life, Osaka, Japan, 1978-79; fact checker, New Yorker, 1980; reader, Random House, publishers, New York, 1980-81; Instructor in English, Syracuse University, 1983. Since 1983 full-time writer. Lives in New York. Agent: Amanda Urban, International Creative Management, 40 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019, U.S.A.; or Deborah Rogers, Rogers Coleridge and White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN, England.



Bright Lights, Big City. New York, Vintage, 1984; London, Cape, 1985.

Ransom. New York, Vintage, 1985; London, Cape, 1986.

Story of My Life. London, Bloomsbury, and New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988.

Brightness Falls. New York, Knopf, 1992; London, Penguin, 1993.

The Last of the Savages. New York, Knopf, 1996.

Model Behavior: A Novel and 7 Stories. New York, Knopf, 1998.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Real Tad Allagash," in Ms. (New York), August 1985.

"It's Six a.m. Do You Know Where You Are?," in Look Who's Talking, edited by Bruce Weber. New York, Washington Square Press, 1986.

"Reunion," in Esquire (New York), March 1987.

"Smoke," in Atlantic (Boston), March 1987.

"She Dreams of Johnny," in Gentlemen's Quarterly (New York), March 1988. "Lost and Found," in Esquire (New York), July 1988.



Bright Lights, Big City, 1988; Gia, with Michael Cristofer, Home Box Office, 1998.


Introduction, New Japanese Voices: The Best Contemporary Fiction from Japan, edited by Helen Mitsios. New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991.

Dressed to Kill: James Bond, the Suited Hero (with others). New York, Flammarion, 1996.

Editor, Cowboys, Indians and Commuters: The Penguin Book of New American Voices. London, Viking, 1994.


Critical Studies:

"You Will Have to Learn Everything All Over Again" by Richard Sisk, in Pacific Review, Spring 1988.

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Jay McInerney has been heralded as the "J.D. Salinger of the 1980s," and his first novel, Bright Lights, Big City, has been called "a Catcher in the Rye for MBA's." It might also be accurate to call McInerney the "Fitzgerald of current fiction." In the same way that This Side of Paradise captured the spirit of the "Jazz Age," Bright Lights, Big City earned McInerney almost instant fame for its timely chronicling of New York City's club scene in the 1980s, a scene that could be found in recognizable form in almost any big city in America.

Bright Lights, Big City is the story of a disillusioned young man who is trying to deal with the impending death of his mother from cancer, the breakup of his marriage to a fashion model, his addiction to cocaine, and his pointless job in the "Department of Factual Verification" for a large magazine. (The last is McInerney's sarcastic exposure of the New Yorker's fact-checking department where he worked for a time). In the novel, the narrator travels from club to club in search of women and cocaine. McInerney illustrates how pointless life is for those addicted to the pursuit of sensation and the forgetfulness that accompanies that pursuit. In the end, the narrator has lost mother, wife, and job; but he has gained a sense of direction: "I was thinking that we have a responsibility to the dead—the living, I mean." The novel's final scene places the narrator on his knees, eating bread. "You will have to learn everything all over again," he says. The narrator must learn that life's true value rests in a place where hedonism is not the central altar.

McInerney's next novel follows the theme of searching for direction and meaning in life. Ransom is the tale of Chris Ransom, an American expatriate in Japan who is studying Goju karate and trying to come to terms with the death of his friends in Pakistan when a dope deal turns deadly. For Ransom, "the dojo, with its strange incantations and white uniforms seemed a sacramental place, an intersection of body and spirit, where power and danger were ritualized in such a way that a man could learn to understand them." This is especially important to the narrator because, "Ransom had lost his bearings spiritually, and he wanted to reclaim himself."

Ransom is also the story of the protagonists' manipulation by his Hollywood-director father and his conflict with DeVito, a fellow American and "karate-ka" (Japanese for "karate artist") who is dangerous because he is "the sort who made a personal contest out of a coin toss" and who would "stake everything on nothing." The novel moves to a climax on "a wide stretch half way between the Kitaoji and Imadegawa bridges" in Japan's ancient capital where Ransom and DeVito face off with Samurai swords.

Although Ransom's search for meaning in life ultimately is not successful, the disillusionment that motivates him continues to be McInerney's primary concern as one can see in his next novel.

Story of My Life is the hip narrative of Allison Poole who is caught in the sexual hedonism and committed shallowness of the 1980s. As Allison says, "The first year I was in New York I didn't do anything but guys and blow. Staying out all night at the Surf Club and the Zulu, waking up at five in the afternoon with plugged sinuses and sticky hair. Some kind of white stuff in every opening. Story of my life."

Story of My Life is an all-talk novel like Brett Easton Ellis's The Rules of Attraction or Norman Mailer's Why Are We in Vietnam? The novel depends upon pop idiom catchphrases. Throughout the novel, Allison asks her friends what the three biggest lies are. She remembers that one is, the check is in the mail and that two is, I won't come in your mouth. But she can't remember the third biggest lie until the book's final pages when she says, "The third lie is, I love you."

Allison is more than a representative character, "a postmodern girl," as she calls herself. She is representative of a demographic entity. She, like Jamie Conway in Bright Lights, Big City and like Chris Ransom, is representative of a portion of a generation that wealth and privilege cannot protect from disillusionment and pain.

McInerney's next novel, Brightness Falls, is the story of Corrine and Russell Calloway, a Manhattan couple envied for their success by their friends. Corrine is a stockbroker who also works in a soup kitchen. Russell is an editor for a major publisher. Like the characters of his other novels, characters in Brightness Falls suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, anorexia, and depression. Brightness Falls, like its predecessors, is a satire of the excess and materialism that are considered the hallmarks of the 1980s. Specifically, the novel satirizes 1980s big business a la Wall Street through Russell's failed attempt at a hostile takeover of his publishing house when an unscrupulous co-conspirator wrests power from Russell.

Three years after Brightness Falls McInerney wrote Last of the Savages. The novel's narrator, Patrick Keane, relates the adventures of his prep school friend Will Savage over a thirty-year period. Savage, the last of his family, is a rebel who seems bent on doing precisely the opposite of what is expected of him. Against his bigoted family's wishes, he marries a black woman and later begins a record label for black blues musicians. However, his actions are not strictly reactionary but driven by an underlying integrity, as Keane comes to realize.

In February 2000, McInerney published his sixth novel, titled Model Behavior, about a man named Connor McKnight who suffers from pre-millennial boredom and obsession with celebrity. Connor is McInerney's Jamie Conway/Alison Poole for the 1990s: while Jamie and Alison have too much time and too much cocaine on their hands, Connor has seen it all.

After Bright Lights, Big City, McInerney became something of a critical darling: the distinctive narrative voice of Jamie and Alison illustrated the way that the urban WASPs of the 1980s constructed their reality. Today, that narrative voice (found in Brightness Falls and Model Behavior) is seen as hackneyed, dated, or just old hat.

In addition to the three novels he produced during the 1990s, McInerney has edited an anthology (Cowboys, Indians and Commuters) and collaborated on a James Bond novel (Dressed to Kill).

Tom Colonnese,

updated by Drew Tidwell

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) Biography