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The Good Life

Jay McInerney
"The Good Life" is a story about many things: it deals with love and loss, with life and death, with contradictory feelings that, in the end, are all but one.

The story is built on three parts whose titles follow in a way the natural order of seasons: Indian Summer, That Autumn and Holidays.
In the first part, the reader is presented the characters and their lives. We first have a direct insight into the life of Corrine and Russell Calloway, a married couple with twins living in TriBeCa and having some financial problems. Then we are introduced to another couple, Luke and Sasha McGavock, who are rich and have one child named Ashley. The two couples don't know each other, and the structure of the first part is balanced between their respective stories. The first part is quite short and narrates only one evening, which represents a moment of balance and normality in the characters' lives, a moment which is about to be turned completely upside down.
Indeed, the historical events of "the day after", that is to say 9/11, totally break down those stable lives and reveal the problems, anguish and doubts that the characters had been having the whole time without realizing it. The couples are in trouble and the characters' deepest feelings and dysfunctional characteristics are gradually brought to the surface: Corrine and Luke meet in Ground Zero and then start to volunteer in a soup kitchen for rescue workers. They get closer, and at the end of Part II they begin to have an affair.
Part III basically narrates the development of the relationship between Corrine and Luke into something more serious, which brings about revelations about their past. The main focus is made on the two characters and how they perceive themselves as well as the persons revolving around them. Eventually, the magic of the relationship and their plan to leave their respective spouses in order to be together vanishes: the characters come back to grounded reality when they unexpectedly meet while accompanied by their families. The period of suspension then comes to an end and Luke and Corrine return to their real lives.

 

The book deals with how history changes and disrupts our lives, and makes us conscious of what is wrong in it. The reader can identify with what the characters experience throughout the novel, realizing that their lives have not turned out to be what they had expected. In the novel, it is 9/11 (whose tragic events are not at all described, the story is only about the aftermath) which makes the characters aware of that fact and gives them the opportunity to begin something new. It is a 9/11 novel in so far as the whole story revolves around that day, but in fact it is not about 9/11: the only thing that matters about 9/11 is what the event triggers in the personal lives of the characters. Good emerged from 9/11 in the form of the love story between Luke and Corinne - their relationship, but also a new solidarity, between the volunteers at the soup kitchen and more generally between all Americans - but it does not last. Eventually, things go back to normal, or at least back to what is called normal. The clearings that were created by 9/11 and its consequences were temporary, and I think this realistic aspect has a strong impact at the end of the novel.

Another powerful aspect of the novel is its description of the shifts in the characters' psyches: at the beginning of the novel they sense that something is wrong in their lives, but they gradually become aware of the importance of their problems. Luke and Corrine discover the dysfunctional aspects of their families. But then again, in the end they resume their previous lives and realize that it is not possible for them to leave everything behind. Anyone can read the book, relate it to one's own life and wonder if they resemble Luke and Corrine.

Another interesting thing is the very title of the novel. The Good Life is a reference to previous religious as well as literary approaches of the good life, that is to say the life as it should be. The expression refers to the life that everyone would want to live, and it is precisely what is at stake in the novel: the characters trying to live their vision of the good life.
 

 

Jay McInerney, The Good Life. Vintage Books, New York, 2006

 

 
 
mise à jour le 10 mars 2009
Créé le 7 mai 2008
ISSN 2107-7029
DGESCO Clé des Langues