You can absolutely, 100% see why this book seemed like a good idea at the time. Two Manhattan couples are busily glossing over the structural flaws in their marriages and in their personal value systems, minding their own business, when Sept. 11 arrives to smack them upside their well-coiffed heads. And who better to snap the reaction shot than Jay McInerney, novelist to the cool and moneyed, author of Bright Lights, Big City? Midlife epiphanies, check. Astute social observation, check. Reality check, check.
So why isn't The Good Life (Knopf; 368 pages) a better book? McInerney's eye is indisputably keen--witness such period moments as the dinner where the party favors are prescriptions for the antianthrax drug Cipro. And the book isn't starved for R-rated action: the two couples respond to the crisis with vigorous spasms of partner swapping.
But we wait in vain for this catalog of tiny ironies and insights to add up to something wise and new. Is it that the foibles of rich New Yorkers are getting just a little overskewered? Or that McInerney's characters, while capable of surprising themselves and one another, never surprise us? Or that we wish they were more worthy objects of our readerly sympathy ("I've facilitated the movement of capital around the globe like a bee mindlessly carrying pollen," laments an investment banker--poor little bee!)? Or maybe there's something monstrously asymmetrical about watching the wistful ripples that a cataclysmic act of terrorism sends through the placid, witty lives of the wealthy.