Review – Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

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Review – Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

Before I read this book, I expected Jay McInerney to write in a similar way to Bret Easton Ellis, as many critics consider the two authors to be in the same ideological camp. I have only read Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero, which I know is not wholly representative of his oeuvre, yet I can draw conclusions about Ellis’ usual themes. I believe Frank Ocean summarized the experience well in the song “Novacane,” his characters have pushed the envelope of experience so far that self-destructive behavior is the only thing that has any power to make them feel emotion.

This was not the case in this book, as I found Jay McInerney’s protagonist to be not so far gone. Though he is prone to self-destructive behavior, there is still oftentimes a self-awareness that his frequent cocaine use and late nights are not healthy. I found the second-person point of view to be a little gimmicky, ultimately because I don’t think it added much to the effect of the novel. Had he used the first person I think the book would have read mostly the same. However, I did feel able to identify with the main character, I was also once a white, twenty-four year old male, living in New York City, an aspiring writer, struggling with a job that I had no passion for, and engaging in self-destructive behavior. The novel was very relatable, and McInerney writes about the city in a recognizable way, despite it taking place in the eighties. I recommend this book as a quick, light read!

McInerney, Jay. Bright Lights, Big City. Vintage,

Review – Mao II by Don DeLillo

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Review – Mao II by  Don DeLillo

This book explores a variety of themes, among them being Maoism, the phenomenon of the reclusive author, and the idea that the growing population of people in the world, collectively, are starting to have a large effect on how we as a society see individual identity. The book starts with Bill Gray, a reclusive author living in upstate New York, his assistant, Scott, who plays a large part in keeping Bill isolated in their shared house, and their relationship with Karen, a 24-year old convert to the Unification Church. The novel moves forward when Brita, a photographer, takes pictures of Bill, and carries to Bill a message from Bill’s old publisher. After hearing the message, Bill leaves and heads to London, where he plans to take part in a press conference, to help secure the release of a hostage being held by a terrorist group in Lebanon. Mao II is often categorized as a postmodern novel, and the denouement is where we see the trueness of this description. The press conference doesn’t happen, and it keeps getting postponed until it doesn’t happen at all. It seems that the terrorists win. 

I live in Southern China and find the undercurrent of Maoism in the book to be relevant today, even though the book was written over twenty years ago. The novel has multiple settings: the United States, London, and Cyprus, and this feature along with the Chinese influence gives the book a very worldly feel. We see Mao’s idea of the “People’s War” present when the book deals with terrorism, terrorists are resisting society at large both violently and ideologically, they aim not only to subvert the social order, but to change the culture at large. The iconic image of Mao Zedong hanging in Tiananmen Square is less about Mao’s personal identity, but more about the identity of China as a whole. DeLillo highlights that terror and art are in some kind of binary struggle, where writers, in modern society, are less important when it comes to shaping human consciousness. There is a scene in the book also where Karen is watching the funeral of Ruhollah Khomeini and the shit show that proceeds. Khomeini’s image, and dead corpse, definitively represent modern Iran, and people violate it and touch it because they want to be one with it. The scenes where the hostage in Lebanon, slowly losing his sanity in captivity, also reminded me of China’s transformation during the Cultural Revolution.

I read somewhere that DeLillo took inspiration for Bill Gray from the life of J.D. Salinger. The author, in his recluse, becomes larger than life, and the mystery surrounding such an author gives hope to the masses. It is apparent in the book that Scott is holding Bill hostage in the house, as Scott knows that this effect is a force of good in the world (one that can fight against the terrorists). One also gets the idea that Scott does this because he wants to keep his idea of Bill pure in his own mind, even though this is done against Bill’s will. DeLillo, though he is dealing with a lot of material in this novel, writes with insight and with an imagination that is unmatched. Another segment in the book deals with Karen and her interactions with the homeless denizens of Tompkins Square Park in the early nineties. His description of the camp is nightmarish, hellish, and brutally honest. I highly recommend this book, the only other book from DeLillo that I have read is White Noise, but I can say I like this book a lot more.

DeLillo, Don. Mao II. Penguin, 1992. Kindle.

Review – Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

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Review – Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

The novel is about the coming of age of adolescent Joel Harrison Knox, a precocious, timid boy, who after the death of his mother moves to a remote Southern town called Noon City, to live with his father who is supposedly taking him in. Joel arrives at the estate of Skully’s Landing, where the reader meets an array of “grotesque” characters, and in the end, his father. Joel has to confront the fact that his father does not turn out to be the man he thought he was.

I am a big fan of Carson McCullers and it is easy to see that she is one of Capote’s influences. Capote however is able to take up McCullers’ mantle and give it a modern sheen: while McCullers uses her ‘freakish’ characters to explore human loneliness, Capote tackles this motif but adds more sincerity. Joel in the end, despite not finding the father he was searching for, does feel accepted by his new community. On the very last page of the book when Joel discovers that it is actually Cousin Randolph in the window, dressed as the old woman, this realization finalizes his sense of belonging.

This novel is just another reminder of the talent that Truman Capote was, even though this was his first novel, he writes with great command. I recommend this book.

Capote, Truman. Other Voices, Other Rooms. Vintage, 1975. Kindle.