The Last Bachelor by Jay McInerney

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The Last Bachelor by Jay McInerney

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: A bitter-sweet, cynical view of the 9/11 world in a dozen short stories. I found it entertaining, with some memorable characters and take home points.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: January 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing plc
ISBN: 978-0747599845

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I enjoyed these short stories by Jay McInerney as if they were a box of expensive, dark chocolates. Some centres were nut hard, while the rich ganache in others left a bittersweet aftertaste. The seven deadly sins provided distinctive tastes of American success, as I nibbled my way through twelve sophisticated stories. Mmm.

The people are the stories. Some characters are creatures of New York society. On the surface, they appear urbane but under the veneer, they are presented as ruthless, conniving and selfish. Even out-of-towners share city values, like Faye's brother, Jimmy, who is stripping the assets from their confused mother's house in South Carolina. McInerney seems deeply cynical about this affluent strata of society.

Nevertheless, the characters are strong and certainly aren't all despicable. Some intrigued me with their idiosyncracies, like modern-day counterparts of the Great Gatsby. The idea of sexual licence recurs in various shades of grey in several stories, but it's only in the first, laconic story about a pot-bellied pig in a couple's bed (you see what I mean about idiosyncracies) where there is a happy resolution to the eternal problem of lust. Most of the characters fight to the bitter end most of the time, which I suppose is a cynical but realistic view of the world .

Henry James's appraisal of writers as … someone on whom nothing is lost is quoted in Everything is Lost. The epithet, whichever way you interpret it, could well be applied to Jay McInerney's writing. There's hardly a character, male or female, who comes out of his analysis unscathed. The couple in this story are so cool that they seem to have iced up any emotional connection with one another at all. Kyle fails to notice his girlfriend's desirability to every man on the block, and loses her, just as surely as he misses out on literary greatness by focusing on his own persona rather than observing other people as minutely as James recommends.

9/11 and its aftermath, the Iraq War, provide an edgy reality in the backdrop to several stories. In The March, against the War, the Twin Towers weave in and out of the story. Even at the end, a previously shadowy part of town now admits a shaft of sunlight which serves as a metaphor for the woman's emotional state. In another story, a soldier's flag-draped coffin waltzes round an airport luggage carousel. New Yorkers' post 9/11 jitters and wider ripples spreading through American society are valid observations of the time. I do like this anti-woolly approach. It makes the story very sharp, very immediate, because it's so precisely set in its time.

As a story, I most admired The Madonna of the Turkey Season, in which the chocolate had several, thought-provoking layers to reach the inner core. Three sons return to their widowed father for Thanksgiving Dinner every year. The oldest, Brian, is a playwright with a successful production, based on his mother's death from cancer. We move through several Thanksgivings, in the jerky lurches of far-spread families immediately pitched into an emotional cauldron when they get together. Over time, the family grow suspicious of Brian's motives. Is he writing his version of the truth, or is it really as fictitious a work as he claims? Each meeting reveals a gradual loss of family unity, without their mother to hold them together. At the end, Brian has forfeited his brothers' regard, blackened his mother's reputation and compromised his art for financial security, while the other two are doing very well, thank you. It's a neat design to expose the problems thrown up by a writer using his family as raw meat. We never quite discover which brother is telling the story, which I took to be the inner core: an acknowledgement that negative family reactions are as valid as the writer's own view, or public praise for the literary product.

Encapsulated are some other neat little truths. In The Last Bachelor, for instance, a debauched A.G. is to marry a rich girl the next day. What are you going to do? asks the viewpoint character, after taking him to bed by way of revenge for still loving him. … the correct thing, AG replies. It's what we do when we don't know what the right thing is.

Nothing is lost on Jay McInerney.

The Bookbag would like to thank the publishers for sending this book.

The Good Life is Jay McInerney's 9/11 novel. A thought-provoking view of the same events is provided by a collection of short stories and articles by Martin Amis' The Second Plane and The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo, which The Bookbag have also reviewed.

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