- By Ruth Doan MacDougall
- Ruth Doan MacDougall, the author of eight novels, reviews first novels for the Monitor. The nameless hero of this very funny first novel narrates the story in second person - a device that runs the risk of becoming gimmicky and tedious but instead triumphs, emphasizing the distance the hero feels from his collapsing life. A ''perennial new kid'' in school, he grew up with a feeling ''of always standing to one side of yourself, of watching yourself in the world even as you were being in the world, and wondering if this was how everyone felt.'' A few months ago, however, the world had seemed his oyster. He was 24 years old. He was married to beautiful Amanda, whom he had met in Kansas City, where he had gone after college to work as a reporter. They'd moved to New York, and he had landed an impressive-sounding job at ''the magazine'' (could it be The New Yorker?). When he met Amanda, she was working for a florist, unaware that she was a perfect Size 8 and possessed ''neo-classical'' cheekbones which could earn $150 an hour. But in New York she soon had a contract with a modeling agency, and though at first she hated the work, eventually she was caught up in it, flying to Europe for showings. And one day four months ago she phoned from Paris to say she wasn't coming home. Ever. Now the hero's career at the magazine is on the skids. Mr. McInerney has a wonderful time with this magazine, especially with the hero's Department of Factual Verification on the 29th floor, where ''the layout suggests a condo for high-rise gophers'' and the people ''speak as if they were weaned on Twining's English Breakfast Tea.'' The department is ruled by a tyrant who is just waiting for our friend to slip up; if she (the tyrant) ''had her way you would have been expelled long ago, but the magazine has a tradition of never acknowledging its mistakes.'' The hero, trying to verify the facts and spelling in a sloppy article, is about to make her wish come true. He seeks escape from his problems in the night life of Manhattan, accompanied by an ad-agency friend ''whose mission in life is to have more fun than anyone else in New York City,'' and who, as they move from night spot to night spot during each evening's spree, ''takes pride in his timing, being on time by being the latest.'' The hero keeps finding himself snorting cocaine in bathrooms while longing to be home in his apartment reading Dickens or at least watching ''Family Feud.'' Other hapless heroes, such as Kingsley Amis's ''Lucky Jim,'' come to mind. The trick is not to exasperate the reader, and Mr. McInerney has us solidly on his hero's side, aware of the grief that underlies the humor. At the end, the revelation of a greater grief doesn't fit all that went before. A rereading shows that McInerney tried to hint at it, but the reader hasn't been properly prepared. Even so, the revelation is handled with the same skill that shines throughout the novel. His is a true talent.
Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney. New York: Vintage Contemporaries. 182 pp. Paper: $5.95.