Click here to read reviewer Nancy Fontaine's take on The Good Life.
On the eve of September 11, 2001, Russell and Corrine Calloway have invited a
few of their wealthy friends over for a dinner party and look forward to an evening of drinking, gossip and revelry in their spacious TriBeCa loft. The Calloways are typical of the bourgeois New Yorker; acquisitive, snobbish, and somewhat status-conscious, they approach the party with kind of gentle gusto. Russell is in fact a little upset that Salman Rushdie had to cancel at the last minute.
Russell and Corrine seem to have the perfect marriage. Russell works for a publishing company while Corrine stays at home to raise their two small children and shops around her screenplay based on Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter. An example to everyone, Russell and Corrine
provide a haven of solace, inspiration and domesticity for their single friends. But lately problems have surfaced, the couple's dewy sheen of youthful exuberance hardening into "a glossy shellac of brittle sophistication."
Concerned over their straitened finances and the fact that they are living beyond their means, Russell can't disguise his anger and the sense that his stay-at-home wife has become almost translucent within the walls of their loft. Russell loves his wife, but he is tiring of keeping up the pretense of marital affluence, and he constantly craves the thrill of selfish carnal indulgence, a world where "lust and respect
are inevitably mutually exclusive."
Meanwhile, Corrine strikes up a friendship with wealthy Wall Street stockbroker Luke McGavock,
whom she meets on the morning of September 12th amid the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center. They both volunteer at Bowling Green - a soup kitchen established at the epicenter of the trauma - and immediately fall in love. Now retired, Luke is equally
adrift, trying desperately to reconnect with his precocious teenage daughter
Ashley while also lamenting the fact that his slutty, fickle wife, Sasha – "a rarified type of urban sophisticate"
- is probably having an affair.
Luke and Corrine are steadily drawn to a type of wartime intimacy, "the camaraderie of strangers in a lifeboat." Russell grows increasingly short-tempered
with Corrine's night shifts at Bowling Green. He begins to sense a shift of power and direction in her, as though she has been "invigorated by the disaster whereas he feels paralyzed."
Luke, Corrine and Russell are part of a "plutocratic tribe" forced to navigate the treacherous waters of illicit liaisons, fueled by an ineffable loneliness and self-doubt. Luke and Corrine feel themselves drawn beyond the barricades by an impulse no less compulsive than their own restlessness. They want to help, to get close, to work off the shock, to feel useful, and to observe the carnage.
More importantly, they want an excuse to be together.
In caustic and biting prose littered with ubiquitous brand names and product placements, author Jay McInerney exquisitely brings Manhattan's moneyed elite and snobbish literati to life. His characters – and his beloved city – must deal with the aftershocks of that terrible day, forced to come to terms with the losses, the friends missing, the dead and the dying, altering forever everything familiar.
Corrine and Luke are both victims and beneficiaries of September 11, stranded in their respective worlds of affluence and prestige. They want to be
good, responsible parents, but beneath the surface of their respective domestic routines there lies resentment. Constantly wracked with guilt at their selfish yearnings, their inner conflicts are shaped from trying to strive for happiness
in this newly shaped chaotic and uncertain world.