Russell and Corinne are a sort of coalminer’s canary couple. People watch them, in other words, as if they were a gauge or register of how the career and marriage mixture is working. Russell’s place of work is described as being “located in one of those interstitial regions of the city which until recently had been nameless . . . south of midtown but not properly downtown.”
“Haphazard might be a word for this placement. “Random” might, perhaps, be another. Julian Barnes may be right in decoupling Mr. McInerney’s fiction from his life, but anyone who knows the publishing racket is still going to be spotting the members of the real-world literary bestiary. There is what could be a misprint in my copy, where a reference is made to the industry of “Proesy and pose.” Mistake or not, it ought to stay in. Here we meet cynical ex-radicals on the make, Jewish paranoid belletrists who spend a Borgesian life-time constructing unreadable fictional labyrinths and cool black dudes who lend cred, absorb the diss and split the diff. Also, since this is set in the age of the arbitrage casino and the reign of funny money, there are some lycanthropic Bonfire ingredients lying combustibly about the place.
The public clef therefore organizes itself around the general rancid hubris of the 1980’s, with a rather stilted nod or obeisance to matters like the Tompkins Square homeless and the parallel immiseration of whatever we agree to call “the less fortunate.” Corinne, Russell’s wife, is the one who cares about all this while working on Wallstrasse, so it takes a while for us to realize that she is a venomous pain in the ass: “Corinne was getting so tired of parties: dinner parties, birthday parties, publication parties, housewarming parties; holiday and theme parties . . . ”
This, with its semiconscious echo of Nina in Vile Bodies, makes us wonder what may come to be the point of the divine Corinne. She likes to kvetch about how Russell is too pooped to screw, but she also wants to make murmurous noises about motherhood. This parallel narrative, with its awful acuity about what happens when, as Shakespeare has it, you may discern a hot friend cooling, is the major rather than minor clef in the story. In other words, private miseries in obscure places—a desperate friend’s room is described by Mr. McInerney as looking “like a campground that has been worked over by bears”—play out much better than public faces in public places.
Still, there are some good period and contemporary insights. I clapped my little flippers together and exclaimed in praise when one of the characters observed that: “If figures of speech based on sport and fornication were suddenly banned, American corporate communication would be reduced to pure mathematics.” In general, though, the epochal context is mannered, and plays to what people already believe themselves to know. Bernie Melman, the fat, vulgar shark and LBO artist, is a no-sweat portrait to anyone who has gone so far as to see Danny DeVito in Other People’s Money. The depiction of little-mindedness in male-female and husband-wife teasing and nagging, however, belongs to all ages.