Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, is a second-person novel that serves as a harsh indictment of 80s yuppie culture told through the eyes of a coke-addicted wannabe writer that just can’t let go of his wife that abandoned him. He’s having a quarter-life crisis and his job as a fact checker at a New Yorker-type of magazine, along with the late-night coke excursions, has taken a toll on his mind and body.
The whole coke and yuppie thing isn’t me, although there are some similarities - particularly the quarter-life crisis bit. It’s one of the few novels that I’ve read multiple times. One of the first scenes of the book has the unnamed protagonist stumbling out onto the streets of New York after an all-night bender with Bolivian Marching Powder (his words, not mine) and some unsavory women in a seedy club. He shamefully realizes, it’s Sunday morning and people are walking the streets in their best clothing while he looks like something from the gutter.
"You know for a fact that if you go out into the morning alone, without even your sunglasses--which you have neglected to bring, because who, after all, plans on these travesties?--the harsh, angling light will turn you to flesh and bone. Mortality will pierce you through the retina."My circumstance was a bit different. All I had that night were some criminally overpriced drinks, but I was still up way too early – or too late - considering it was dawn. My eyes were bloodshot. My hair was a mess and the lack of sleep had me a little out of my mind. The bakeries were open and that’s when I realized I was living a watered down version of the scene from Bright Lights, Big City. The book begins and ends with the bread from a bakery. At first, it’s the indignity of being up the same time as the bakers and not doing anything productive like they’re doing. At the end, it symbolizes redemption. Deep stuff.
At least it was so early that the other people on the streets had no legitimate reason to be there either, except for this one girl at Grand Central. She was playing a ukulele rather well in the nearly empty station. Everyone else I saw that morning looked like they were up to no good. I think I was somewhere in the middle of the two groups.