Bright Lights, Big City (novel)
First edition cover
|August 12, 1984|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
Bright Lights, Big City is an American novel by Jay McInerney, published by Vintage Books on August 12, 1984. It is written about a character's time spent caught up in, and notably escaping from, the mid-1980s New York City fast lane. The novel got its title from the Jimmy Reed song of the same name.
The story's narrator is a 24-year-old writer who works as a fact checker for a high-brow magazine for which he had once hoped to write. By night, he is a cocaine-using party-goer seeking to lose himself in the hedonism of the 1980s yuppie party scene, often going to a nightclub called Heartbreak.
His wife, Amanda, recently left him, and he copes with this by pretending nothing happened and telling no one that she is gone. The two had met in Kansas City; the narrator moves with her to New York City, where she begins a modeling career that quickly takes off. After flying out to Paris for Fashion Week, she calls the narrator to inform him that she is leaving him for another man and to pursue her career. Initially hopeful that she will return someday, the narrator eventually resorts to searching for her at a fashion event, publicly humiliating himself while failing to garner more attention from her than a brief look. He obsesses over every item she owned in his apartment, every modeling photo and every club she visited, even repeatedly visiting a mannequin based on her. His partying and his personal troubles begin to affect his work.
The narrator's obsession with his ex-wife and constant partying is his way of avoiding dealing with the anniversary of a tragic event in his life. The novel is written in a second-person monologue, which serves to put the reader in the head of this fascinatingly flawed character, experiencing his anxiety and confusion directly through his thoughts. When he finally discovers what he's really running from, his discovery becomes our discovery.
The novel went on to be the source material for the 1988 film Bright Lights, Big City, which was also written by McInerney. In 1999, an off Broadway stage musical was produced by the New York Theater Workshop, written by Paul Scott Goodman and directed by Michael Grief, with orchestrations and musical direction by Richard Barone.
- Kornbluth, Jesse: "Inside Area: The Wizardry of New York's Hottest Club", New York Magazine, pg 35, March 11, 1985.
- New York Times article about the musical