Authors: Jay McInerney
How It Ended
The Good Life
The Last of the Savages
Story of My Life
Bright Lights, Big City
A Hedonist in the Cellar
Bacchus and Me
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
Copyright Â© 2016 by Jay McInerney
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
A portion of this work appeared in the August 2016 issue of
Names: McInerney, Jay, author.
Title: Bright, precious days / Jay McInerney.
Description: First Edition. | New York : Knopf, 2016.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016004632 (print) | LCCN 2016010138 (ebook) | ISBN 9780451595078 (open market) | ISBN 9781101948019 (ebook)
Subjects: | BISAC: FICTION / Literary. | FICTION / Urban Life. | FICTION / Family Life.
Classification: LCC PS3563.C3694 B75 2016 (print) | LCC PS3563.C3694 (ebook) | DDC 813/.54âdc23
LC record available at
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover photograph by Chip Kidd and Terry Sanders
Photo composite by Terry Sanders
Cover design by Chip Kidd
Every marriage is its own culture, and even within it, mystery is the environment.
ONCE, NOT SO VERY LONG AGO,
young men and women had come to the city because they loved books, because they wanted to write novels or short stories or even
or because they wanted to be associated with the production and distribution of those artifacts and with the people who created them. For those who haunted suburban libraries and provincial bookstores, Manhattan was the shining island of letters. New York, New York: It was right there on the title pagesâthe place from which the books and magazines emanated, home of all the publishers, the address of
The New Yorker
The Paris Review,
where Hemingway had punched O'Hara and Ginsberg seduced Kerouac, Hellman sued McCarthy and Mailer had punched everybody, whereâor so they imaginedâearnest editorial assistants and aspiring novelists smoked cigarettes in cafÃ©s while reciting Dylan Thomas, who'd taken his last breath in St. Vincent's Hospital after drinking seventeen whiskeys at the White Horse Tavern, which was still serving drinks to the tourists and the young litterateurs who flocked here to raise a glass to the memory of the Welsh bard. These dreamers were people of the book; they loved the sacred New York texts:
The House of Mirth,
Gatsby, Breakfast at Tiffany's
et al., but also all the marginalia: the romance and the attendant mythologyâthe affairs and addictions, the feuds and fistfights. Like everyone else in their lousy high school, they'd read
The Catcher in the Rye,
but unlike everyone else they'd really
itâit spoke to them in their own languageâand they secretly conceived the ambition to one day move to New York and write a novel called
Where the Ducks Go in Winter
or maybe just
The Ducks in Winter.
Russell Calloway had been one of them, a suburban Michigander who had an epiphany after his ninth-grade teacher assigned Thomas's “Fern Hill” in honors English, who subsequently vowed to devote his life to poetry until
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
changed his religion to fiction. Russell went east to Brown, determined to acquire the skills to write the great American novel, but after reading
âwhich seemed to render most of what came afterward anticlimacticâand comparing his own fledgling stories with those written by his Brown classmate Jeff Pierce, he decided he was a more plausible Maxwell Perkins than a Fitzgerald or Hemingway. After a postgraduate year at Oxford he moved to the city and eventually landed a coveted position opening mail and answering the phone for legendary editor Harold Stone, in his leisure hours prowling the used bookstores along Fourth Avenue in the Village, haunting the bars at the Lion's Head and Elaine's, catching glimpses of graying literary lions at the front tables. And if the realities of urban life and the publishing business had sometimes bruised his romantic sensibilities, he never relinquished his vision of Manhattan as the mecca of American literature, or of himself as an acolyte, even a priest, of the written word. One delirious night a few months after he arrived in the city, he accompanied an invited guest to a
party in George Plimpton's town house, where he shot pool with Mailer and fended off the lisping advances of Truman Capote after snorting coke with him in the bathroom.
Though the city after three decades seemed in many ways diminished from the capital of his youth, Russell Calloway had never quite fallen out of love with it, nor with his sense of his own place here. The backdrop of Manhattan, it seemed to him, gave every gesture an added grandeur, a metropolitan gravitas.
Not long after he became an editor, Russell had published his best friend Jeff Pierce's first bookâa collection of stories; and then, after Jeff died, his novel, two of the main characters in whichâit could not be deniedâwere inspired by Russell and his wife, Corrine. Editing that book would have been difficult enough, given its not-quite-finished state, even if it hadn't involved a love triangle featuring a married couple and their closest friend, but Russell was proud of the scrupulous, sometimes painful professionalism with which he'd tried to implement Jeff's intentions. The novel,
Youth and Beauty,
was generously praised by the criticsâincluding several who'd been unkind about his debutâas books by recently deceased authors often are, especially those who die young and in a manner that confirms the myth of the artist as a self-destructive genius. Even before the book was published there was spirited bidding for the film rights. It sold well in hardcover and again, a year later, in paperback, and then its sales fell off, dwindling into the double digits a few years back, its author little more than a name associated with the period of big hair and big shoulder pads, yet another of the victims of the great epidemic that scythed the ranks of the artistic community, although, as a heterosexual, he didn't really fit the profile of the plague narrative and his fiction had more in common with that of James Gould Cozzens or John O'Hara than with the high-gloss, coke-fueled prose of his famous contemporaries. Over time his reputation faded like the Polaroids from their days at Brown. Then, gradually, almost inexplicably, the book and its author had been resurrected.
This process first came to Russell's attention with a long essay in the inaugural issue of a magazine called
which Jonathan Tashjian, his PR director, had shown him. The writer of the essay claimed to be part of a growing legion of fans, and cited a Web site, Lovejeffpierce.com. Just when Russell had begun to suspect that earnest young people cared much less about literature than his own generation had, a new wave of book people rose up to adopt Jeff. The appetite for his work was fed in part by its very obscurity and by the lack of availability of the books, which had fallen out of print, abetted by a sudden interest in the eighties on the part of those who were too young to have really experienced that decade. Not long after he took command of his own publishing house, Russell bought back the rights to both books and quickly reprinted them. The sales figures thus far did not begin to reflect the intensity of interest on the part of the early adopters, and Russell could only assume that these true believers would lose interest if and when the books again became popular. Still, the second-generation interest had caught the attention of a production company, which picked up the lapsed movie option, and as literary executor Russell had gotten Corrine attached to the project as a screenwriter; her critically praised adaptation of Graham Greene's
The Heart of the Matter,
released the previous year in seven or eight theaters worldwide before going to video, having given her just enough credibility to merit a first crack at the script. After two drafts they wanted to hire a new writer, but Russell had insisted that Corrine stay involved. Though they hadn't heard from the would-be producers in almost a year, the option had been renewed again just a few weeks ago.
In the meantime, he'd agreed to have lunch with the creator of another Jeff Pierce Web site, one Astrid Kladstrup. Unlike some of his colleagues, Russell believed in the potential importance of the Internet and the blogosphere, which he himself had difficulty plumbing; this was one of the main reasons he'd hired Jonathan, who lived in that world, and also why he'd agreed to talk to this young fan, although he'd possibly been unduly influenced by a photo of Jeff's latest fan on the Web site.
When she appeared in his office doorway, escorted by his assistant, Gita, she looked even younger and hotter than in her photograph, so much so that he felt guilty at having invited her to lunch in the first place. She was petite and voluptuous, her figure highlighted by what looked like a vintage dress in a shiny red fabric, the narrow waist accented by a flared skirt. She had pouty red lips beneath a lacquered brunette bob and wore heavy black glasses that seemed somehow ironic, and suddenly he felt like Humbert fucking Humbert.
He rose and walked around his desk to greet her. “Astrid?”
“Very nice to meet you, Mr. Calloway.”
“Please, call me Russell.” He almost said “Mr. Calloway is my father” but realized how incredibly old that joke was, how old it would make him sound, and how lame, although it was possible, of course, that she was so young that it would be new to her. “Have a seat.”
“It's weird,” she said, tilting her head to one side and then the other, like a parrot, as she studied him. “I feel like I know you.”
“If you're imagining me as the character in Jeff's bookâ”
“Sorry, I guess that's pretty pathetic.”
“Jeff would have been the first to insist on the autonomy of his fictional characters.” Not wanting to sound pompous, he added, “When he published a chapter of the novel in
way back in '87, he categorically denied it had anything to do with us.”
“You and Corrine.”
Hearing his wife's name on these plump, shiny, strawberry-colored lips, he felt a twinge ofâwhat? He nodded. “Yes. Nothing to do with us, he insisted.”
“And you believed him?”
At the time in question, Russell had been furious, the characters being all too recognizable in those early drafts. “Well, I wasn't altogether pleased with that particular piece.”
She nodded adorably. “Still, you look exactly like I thought you would.”
“Only older,” he said, trying to maintain a modicum of sanity and decorum.
“And this place,” she said, waving a forefinger from side to side. “It looks like an editor's office should.”
“Thanks. One of the perks of buying a venerable old publisher on life support was the nineteenth-century town house that came with it.” Russell tended to speak of himself as the proprietor of the operation, though in fact his equity share was considerably smaller than his investors' and was about to shrink further if the fall list didn't start performing better. This past spring he'd had to rent out the top floor of the town houseâto a couture-shopping Web site, no lessâand cram two subrights assistants into Jonathan's office. His took up the back of the second floor, overlooking the courtyard and the scruffy garden out back, which looked far more impressive in the verdant months. The side walls were essentially floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that culminated twelve feet above the floors.
“So you weren'tâ¦always here?”
“Back in Jeff's day, no. I was working for Corbin, Dern then. I took over McCane, Slade in 2002.”
“Great place. Kind of creaky and dusty and Dickensian. Sorry, I didn't mean that as an insult.” She stood up and walked over to a shelf filled with photographs, focusing on the one of Jeff slouched against the door of his East Village apartment.
“That was taken in 1986.”
“Wow, do you think we could get a copy for the site?”
“I'm sure we could manage that.”
“This is cool,” she said, pointing at the photo of Jack Nicholson, a signed publicity still from
“What does it say?”
“It says, âTo Russ, who gives good book.' I did the movie tie-in paperback years ago and Stephen King got him to sign that for me. I don't know why I still have it. And that's John Berryman, one of my all-time favorite poets. You should read
The Dream Songs
if you haven't.”
“Is he the one who jumped off the bridge?”
“Well, yes.” He was pleased the name was still out there, but hated to hear Berryman reduced to a tabloid headline.
“Who's that?” she asked, nodding toward a Lynn Goldsmith photo of Keith Richards.
“Keith Richards. Of the Rolling Stones.”
“Did you publish him or something?”
He shook his head. “Sadly, no.” The grittier of the Glimmer Twins was, in fact, under contract to Little, Brown for a memoir, with an advance so staggering that Russell had never even considered playing.
“What's the significance?”
Keith fucking Richards.
After making sure she wasn't a vegetarian, as so many young people seemed to be these daysâin which case it would've been out of the questionâhe walked her some five blocks south of his West Village office to the Fatted Calf, a self-proclaimed gastropub inspired by recent trends in ever-trendy London. Although it had been open less than two years, it looked as if it had been in business since Prohibition, with creaky, mismatched tables and chairs, its framed butcher's-eye diagrams of vivisected cow carcasses, on which each cut was carefully labeled. The maÃ®tre d'âif a guy with a chullo cap and a soul patch qualified as suchâled them to a rickety back table with a rough, water-stained top. Russell had discovered the place early on, thanks to a tip from an English writer he published, and had started coming before it became one of the toughest seats in town, although the lunch hour was relatively uncrowded; there weren't any office buildings in the neighborhood, and the staff inevitably seemed surprised that anybody was actually vertical at this undignified hour.
“The food's great,” Russell told her. “At night it's a mob scene. Two-hour wait. They supposedly don't take reservations, but if you're a celebrity or a friend of the house, there's a phone number.”
Astrid examined her surroundings with new interest. “I take it you have the number.”
He shrugged. “I come here a lot.”
“So, what do you recommend?” she asked, leaning forward and gazing at him as if prepared to follow any directive he might issue. He wondered if this was how professors lived, bathed in the admiration of young people, and if so, how they managed it. He'd considered the academic life, and even applied to several grad schools before dropping that idea. Now, mesmerized as he was, he was pretty certain he could keep his mind straight for a couple of hours. But he felt he'd be a shivering wreck if he had to contend with this girl for, say, an entire semester.