It's a simple story. There are a bunch of middle aged rich people in Manhattan who are more interested in getting the right people to come to their parites, working for the right charities and getting their children into the right private schools than they are in anything else. They talk about how to be successful you "have to have a private jet" and get upset when they get stood up by Salman Rusdie.
Then 9/11 happens and for a few months they change. They volunteer to serve sandwiches to fire fighters at Ground Zero. They have the types of illicit affairs they've been wanting to have for years. They start drinking and doing drugs like they used to in their 20s. They consider getting their kids out of the ridiculous New York prep schools and moving to the suburbs and public school. People who had quit smoking light up again.
They suddenly seem like real people.
A few months go by and gradually all that stops. By the end of the novel they are back to going to the right parties and charity events. The affairs have stopped. The drink and drugs are done with and the smokers have quit again.
It's like the months after 9/11 were just a dream connection to their youth and ideals that got swept away.
I'm not sure if McInerney hates these characters or feels sorry for them. With Brett Ellis you see people like that making horrible choices, but you always have the sense that Brett sorta loves his characters. With McInerney it's hard to tell. I've always thought he was both fascinated and repulsed by the idea of "Bright Lights Big City" and never resolved that conflict with himself.
I'm also not sure what he's referring to in calling the book "The Good Life." Is he talking about the way people are at the start and finish of the book, or the way they are in that liberating middle?
Anyway, it's a thought worth thinking about and a book worth reading.