Bright, Precious Days (Bloomsbury, £18.99/Audible, £26.39) is the final chapter in Jay McInerney’s trilogy, which started with Brightness Falls in 1992. Set against the backdrop of the 2008 presidential election, it revisits Russell and Corrine Calloway who, now entering their fifties, live in Manhattan with their 12-year-old twins. Their marriage is tested when Corinne’s old lover comes back on the scene and the financial crash starts to take hold.
What are the benefits of writing a trilogy over such a prolonged period of time?
I find it interesting to follow characters over time, not only to imagine the way in which individuals develop over the course of their lives but also to follow the history of New York in my time, to chronicle the larger social and economic events and trends that shape the lives of its inhabitants.
Most of your novels are set in New York. What is it about the city that provides the ideal literary backdrop?
I find Manhattan to be an endless source of inspiration. It’s the centre of so many industries and institutions of American life – publishing, advertising, art, finance, fashion. And the various tribes mix here, which is not the case in, say, Washington or Los Angeles. You can find yourself at a dinner table with a fashion designer, an artist, an investment banker, a novelist and a ballet dancer. It’s a rich mix. Although there are of course native New Yorkers, the people I write about are ambitious outsiders who come from all over the world to realise their dreams.
The Calloways enjoy a relatively lavish lifestyle surrounded by famous friends from the literary scene – what do you think it is about celebrities that readers find so alluring?
Well, the literary figures in my book are all fictional, so I’m not sure that you could call them celebrities and in fact it’s pretty rare that literary figures are famous. They certainly travel in fairly glamorous circles but Russell and Corrine are less interested in celebrity culture than the majority of the population. I think they are interested in talent and accomplishment.
Bright, Precious Days is set in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. Did you purposely time its release to coincide with the upcoming race for leadership?
The fact that publication coincided with the 2016 election was a coincidence, though I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself writing about it some day. It’s a crazy election with a crazy New Yorker as one of the principals.
How do you think the aftermath of 9/11 and the 2008 crash changed New York’s identity? And what are the long-term effects for people living in the city?
Anyone who was here during 9/11 carries the memory with them, though it may be submerged. Many people changed their lives in the aftermath: getting married or divorced or changing careers after realising that life was fragile and time was valuable. Many of us went on with our lives, but whenever we hear a loud noise or see a low flying plane we flinch. We remember. I think it made us more aware of our fellow New Yorkers, more aware that we are part of a larger community, and that’s good. The financial crisis wrecked some lives and businesses and fortunes and it chastened many people. But by now, I think it is mostly forgotten and the next financial crisis, which is inevitable, will surprise us all over. New Yorkers aren’t oriented toward the past.
You have previously described Russell Calloway as your alter ego. What are the main similarities and differences between the two of you?
If I hadn’t become a novelist I think I would have become an editor. And Russell shares some of my traits – I sometimes make fun of myself when writing about him. We both love wine and books, but I’d say he’s a little more sensible and conservative than I am.
Your writing career has spanned over more than three decades. Where do you draw inspiration from?
I draw my inspiration from the world around me, especially New York City and its inhabitants.