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Bright Lights, Small Town

I went to a reading by Jay McInerney at Williams College on Thursday. He is a Williams Grad, class of ’76, best know for his debut novel, Bright Lights, Big City, The book started out as a short story called “It’s 6AM, Do You Know Where You Are?” which he read from at the event. It was great to hear him read from his acclaimed work of fiction about the New York experience, and I realized that his experience in the 80s wasn’t so different from my own period of youthful bliss in New York as a twenty-something.

When I think of New York in the 80s, I picture a civilization at its hedonistic peak; money flowing uptown from Wall Street, coke flowing downtown into the clubs of the Lower East Side. It sounds like back then it still had that touch of grime, a real grit that got in your teeth, and a sense of legitimacy that might have slightly faded in the last twenty years. But the ethos is still the same: have fun, make money, spend it all, get rich on the experience. Consider yourself lucky; appreciate that you live in the ultimate pressure cooker of every culture and class known to man. I’ve got to get my hands on that book. Has anyone seen the movie adaptation starring Michael J. Fox? Is it any good?

I was too shy to go up and say something to the literary legend after the session ended. If I weren’t too chicken shit to come up with something clever to say, I would have probably said something to him about how New York hasn’t really changed since he first wrote about it. I might have gotten nervous as I fumbled around for something else to say and made the blunder of mentioning that he “writes women” very well.

He read a section from one of his other books that featured the character Corrine. The highlight of the reading, for me, was when Corrine was thinking about her husband during a taxi ride home after a disastrous encounter with a Hollywood big shot who wanted to have meaningless sex in exchange for reading her screenplay. Through the lens of Corrine, McInerney depicted a woman who was detached from her own sexuality, someone who had forgotten how to be an object of desire. He went into depth about the state of her marriage and its lack of sex, highlighting that she was turned off by her husband’s gestures of affection, because to him they were only a means to an end. So instead of making any attempt to reignite their sex life, and risk eliciting these false acts of tenderness, she stayed on her side of the bed, and he stayed on his. This struck me as very poignant, and touched on a fear that all marriages end up as friendships with irreconcilable differences.

After the reading, there was a panel discussion featuring McInerney, his long-time editor Gary Fisketjon, and Carrie Ryan, who are also Williams Grads. They talked about procrastination, how they got their starts, MFAs, and the luck of publishing, all the usual stuff you’d expect from a writer’s panel. But the thing that really blew me away was when McInerney admitted one of his fears as a writer there is that no one wants to hear what he has to say. It was reassuring to hear it from an Emerged Author, but I also wonder how many people feel that way. I know I certainly do. Sometimes I can’t even stand the thought of opening my laptop and spurting out what might be just be viewed by others as worthless dribble. I wonder how truly widespread this fear is in this day and age, when everyone has a blog and is constantly updating their facebook and twitter statuses with statements that usually aren’t so earth-shattering. How did we get to this place in time, when the fear that no one wants to hear what you have to say is always trumped by the desire to be heard and to have a voice?

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