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Bright Lights, Big City – Jay McInerney

by Venky

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The unnamed protagonist in Jay McInerney’ s “Bright Lights, Big City” leads a debauched life roiling with visceral emotions and laced with vice. When not burning away nights snorting lines, guzzling booze, and desperately seeking dalliance with equally spaced out damsels, our hero ekes out a living in the capacity of a professional in the Department of Factual Verification in a New York Magazine. However he is absolutely not cut out for the job. Reporting to a no-nonsense woman called The Clinger, who possesses a “mind like a steel mousetrap and a heart like a twelve-minute egg”, he comes perilously close to getting fired many times on account of lapses and delinquencies in the course of discharging his responsibilities.

This Hunter S. Thompson like existence is given thrust, boost and velocity by an incorrigible acolyte of hedonism, Tad Allagash. A very close friend of the hero, Allagash makes the concept of Six Degrees of Separation sound like five degrees too many. Hobnobbing with models and mafia, Allagash is also a miraculous trove of quality dope called “Bolivian Marching Powder”. And boy does he march! Fleeting in and out of nightclubs at the speed of light, being ferreted away by strange people (in limousines) to stranger party destinations, Allagash is emblematic of movement that is frenzied and frenetic. The employee at the Department of Factual Verification is invariably in tow. During one such mysterious expedition, the young man is warned by a cocaine magnate about talking too much and to too many. ‘You know what happens to people who know too much? . . . They become dog chow.”

As is to be expected, the hero gets fired by the Clinger after committing one mistake too many, and in a drug and alcohol fueled state decides to avenge his dismissal. Bolstered by fantastical ideas proffered by Tad, the duo smuggle a ferret in a briefcase and let the animal loose in The Clinger’s Office after managing to get into the Department of Factual Verification, successfully hoodwinking the Security in the process. The angry and agitated ferret bites the hand of the protagonist before hiding behind a stack of mail and administering bite number two to the unsuspecting mailman the following morning.

Next stop is a Vogue fashion show at the Waldorf-Astoria. The intention to disrupt proceedings when a model named Amanda, who also happens to be the ex-wife of the protagonist comes sashaying onto the ramp. Two burly turban clad security guards who are a cross between Thanos and The Undertaken ‘escort’ the jilted husband out the setting before depositing him on the street.

A disillusioned and desperate he ends up collapsing in a friend’s bathtub after digging in her medicine cabinet and swallowing what he supposes to be Valium pills. However McInerney’ s book is not all Kook-Aid junkies, sex starved libidinous predators and Vodka obsessed devotees of Richard Harris and Oliver Reed. Megan a co worker of our hero is a woman with a magnanimous heart and a motherly disposition. While an overt fondness for the protagonist seems like an erotic predilection, Megan is explicitly ambivalent about her intent and feeling towards her co-worker.

The Department of Factual Verification is a beehive of the ubiquitous and the unseen. The Ghost is an extraordinarily reclusive character. He has been working on a solitary article for seven punishing years and also happens to be an inventor of the automatic toilet-bowl cleaning revolution in addition to holding a patent for a rotary nose-hair clipper. Yasu Wade, a colleague of the hero, is a man giving to dishing out dollops of sarcasm and possessing a demeanour that is perennially pessimistic,

McInerney’ s “Bright Lights, Big City”, is a cross between Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities”, and Hunter J. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”. Extremely fast paced and plastered with great humour, it is McInerney’ s personal love affair with the bustling, pulsating and mysterious city of New York.

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