When I was young, I often re-read my favorite books. As I've gotten older, I've become far less likely to do so, probably due to a combination of less time to read in the first place and so many appealing new books I haven't gotten to yet. Brightness Falls by Jay McInerney is one of the few novels I've read multiple times since I left my 20's. Russell and Corrine Calloway were a couple whose New York City lifestyle wasn't much like mine - he worked in publishing, she was a stockbroker, and they were clearly part of the "over-privileged" class - but their lives as young adults in the 1980's, with seemingly every possibility available, felt like mine at the same time, just out of college and getting started in the world. The stock-market crash of 1987 up-ended their world, as it did to many people, and laid the groundwork for a new decade that looked like it would be a time of retrenchment.
As it turned out, the 1990s started out slowly, but they revved up well past the excesses of the prior decade, and in The Good Life, we find the Calloways fourteen years later at the start of the new century, in their TriBeCa loft, where Corrine has been a stay-at-home mom to the couple's young twins for the last several years. Further uptown, the non-stop 1990s bull market has allowed Luke McGavock to leave his finance career and explore writing a book, while still underwriting the high social and material aspirations of his wife and teenage daughter. These New York lives intersect on September 12, 2001. The immediate effects of the days and weeks after the 9-11 attacks are a framework to the story, as both Luke and Corrine are drawn to volunteer at a refreshment tent set up to serve the round-the-clock workers at Ground Zero. They are drawn to each other, as well, in a time when everyone seems to be questioning everything about their lives.
My personal experiences have made me especially sensitive to the portrayal of infidelity in novels and movies, but I feel that in this book, it's depicted with appropriate complexity. I still don't believe that a third person can interfere with a relationship unless a space has already opened up between the couple that allows it, and those spaces are pretty apparent here, on both sides. Even so, the participants struggle with their actions and worry about the consequences...and the outcome isn't necessarily clear in the end. I found the characters to be well-developed and sympathetic, the writing sharp, and the story identifiable even if one wasn't in New York City in the fall of 2001. If I can find my copy of Brightness Falls, I may read it one more time, immediately followed by a re-reading of The Good Life. I found it quite satisfying.