Tales of sex, loss and infidelity

2009-04-02 00:00

The 12 short stories in this collection are about close relationships —between lovers, ex-lovers, spouses and family members. Most are darkened by betrayal or disappointment but that doesn’t mean they aren’t funny, even if in a fractured post-9/11 kind of way.

McInerney’s 1984 best-selling first novel Bright Lights, Big City is about high-flying New Yorkers, and this collection focuses on big-city socialites, writers and the like, including migrants from old-money southern families who inhabit New York but retain their ties to Tennessee.

If living greedily had been the silver lining during the lusty years of youth, with a frank deftness, these stories explore the nature of the inevitable cloud. Infidelity and duplicity take their toll.

In several stories, the sense of loss that pervades so many of the relationships is paralleled by the sense of loss that pervades New York after the plane attacks on the twin towers. In one story, on returning to her apartment block after an anti-war march, a shaft of sunlight momentarily dazzles a woman. “For years this part of the city had been gloomy at this time of the afternoon, entombed in shadow” (The March, p.112). Both literally and figuratively, a complex interplay of light and dark informs the stories as the protagonists seek to retain what they might be losing or to recover what they once had.

The aching sadness and sense of loss and betrayal typifying the relationships in these stories is balanced by an arch self-awareness and knowingness, both of the characters and, one cannot avoid speculating, of the author himself. Replacing tragedy one senses a presumptuous post-apocalyptic sigh.

Carol Brammage

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