Bright Lights, Big City, 1984
Story of My Life, 1988
Brightness Falls, 1992
The Last of the Savages, 1996
The Queen and I, 1996
How It Ended, 2000
Cowboys, Indians, and Commuters: The Penguin Book of New American Voices, 1994
Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, 2000
Model Behavior: A Novel and Seven Stories, 1998
Jay McInerney (MAK-ih-nur-nee) achieved remarkable early success and celebrity with the publication of his first novel and has spent his career attempting to live up to that initial achievement. Born into the upper middle class, the son of an international corporate executive, McInerney grew up in several different cities, including London, England, and Vancouver, Canada, and attended eighteen elementary schools before attending high school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He completed his undergraduate degree at Williams College with a major in philosophy and a minor in English. After graduation, he and his good friend Gary Fisketjon (who later became his editor at Random House) hit the road, traveling throughout the United States and working at various odd jobs. As a reporter for the Hunterdon County Democrat newspaper in New Jersey, McInerney labored more over his prose than the facts, and his tenure there was brief.
Finding himself at loose ends, in 1977 McInerney traveled to Japan on a Princeton-in-Asia Fellowship, taking Japanese courses at the Institute for International Studies outside Tokyo and teaching English at Kyoto University. This two-year sojourn in Japan provided the budding author not only with material for his second novel but also with the traditional literary expatriate experience as well. In Japan he developed a keen interest in the martial arts, and he married his half-Japanese girlfriend, model Linda Rossiter.
In 1979 the couple moved to New York City to pursue their respective careers of writing and modeling. To support himself while writing, McInerney worked as a fact-checker for The New Yorker. Fired after seven months, he went to work as a freelance reader for Random House. During this period McInerney plunged headlong into the thriving New York City club scene; he later vividly recounted these experiences in Bright Lights, Big City.
By 1981 McInerney’s wife had left him, and his writing was taking a back seat to night life when his friend Fisketjon introduced him to writer Raymond Carver, who was then teaching at Syracuse University. Carver suggested that McInerney leave the distracting atmosphere of New York City and become one of his students at Syracuse. McInerney spent three years studying under Carver and met his second wife, Merry Reymond, a Ph.D. student in philosophy, at Syracuse.
He began writing seriously during this period, in 1982 publishing “It’s Six
With the publication of his first novel McInerney gained considerable celebrity, and he was often referred to as part of the “literary brat pack,” which included fellow writers Bret Easton Ellis and Tama Janowitz. These writers appeared in the gossip columns, posed for fashion layouts, and even endorsed products. When the film version of Bright Lights, Big City, starring Michael J. Fox, was released in 1988, McInerney’s celebrity was probably at its peak.
Bright Lights, Big City was followed in 1985 by Ransom, a more conventionally structured novel than his first, based on his experiences in Japan. Ransom probably suffered from a backlash caused by the popularity of his first novel; it received mixed reviews and little popular acclaim. McInerney’s third novel, Story of My Life, returns to the New York night-life scene. It is narrated by a young woman more immersed in the drug culture than his earlier protagonist was. While praised by a few critics for its realistic use of the feminine voice, most found the novel trivial and unimpressive.
McInerney’s personal life as well as his professional life was at a low point in 1988. His second wife, Merry, attempted suicide and was hospitalized for some time. During this period he had a much-publicized relationship with Marla Hansen, a model who had made headlines in 1986 when she was disfigured by a brutal attack. This relationship ended soon after he met jewelry designer Helen Bransford, whom he wed in 1991. The couple moved to Franklin, Tennessee, outside Nashville.
In 1992 Brightness Falls, McInerney’s most ambitious novel to that time, appeared to favorable reviews. Like Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, Brightness Falls takes place in the high-flying 1980’s right before the stock market crash of 1987. His main characters this time are older and have “made it” as publishers, stock brokers, and writers, although their own excesses, as well as the general excesses of the 1980’s, are catching up with them. The longest and most fully realized novel in his career to this point, it fulfilled some of the promise of his early success.
In 1996, McInerney published his fifth novel, The Last of the Savages, a departure from his earlier work in locale, theme, and complexity. It spans thirty years in the lives of two protagonists, one striving to achieve a position in the American upper classes, the other struggling to escape his aristocratic southern heritage. The novel appeared to mixed reviews and little popular acclaim, but it illustrated the continual evolution of McInerney’s talent and demonstrated his maturation as a writer.