Jay McInerney’s “new” short story collection

Jay McInerney has a review of Andre Dubus III’s new novel, The Garden of Last Days, in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review. Dubus’ new novel has not been getting very good reviews, and McInerney’s was no exception really. It must be difficult to follow a novel as good as The House of Sand and Fog, which was a National Book Award finalist as well as an Oprah book. It was also made into a movie, staring Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley. I really dug the movie, but I confess that I never read the book. What can I say? It simply slipped so far off my radar that it I lost sight of it. And it was an Oprah book, which, for some reason, makes me even less inclined to read a book. Anyhoo… that wasn’t really my point for this blog. I noted in the little bio blurb of the reviewer that accompanies every review that McInerney has a new short story collection coming out in January of 2009. It’s called How It Ended, which is, oddly enough, the title of a previously published collection of short stories by JM. At last, I think it is or was. It’s kind of confusing.

As near as I can figure, back in like 1998 McInerney pub’d a hardcover book that was a short novel and 7 stories entitled Model Behavior. One of the stories in that book is titled “How It Ended.” Later, the novel was published in paperback without the short stories. But in 2001 a collection of JM’s stories was published under the title — wait for it — How it Ended. I’ve never physically handled a copy of this book but I’m guessing it was the 7 stories from original hardcover edition of Model Behavoir. I’m assuming they were split up under the assumption that more money could be made from two books than one. Or perhaps Vintage decided for some reason that they only wanted the novel from Model Behavior to pub in paperback format. Because the short story collectiong, How it Ended, is pub’d by Bloomsbury. I don’t think that is unusual.

But here’s my wonder. Is this supposedly new collection of short stories really a new collection. Or is it simply the original 7 with a few more added in. Jay McInerney isn’t really known for his short stories. If you read any of them, you’d understand why. They don’t suck, but they’re no great shakes. Not like say the stories of Tobias Wolff who had a new collection of collected and new stories pubbed this past year, or Mary Gaitskil, who supposedly has a new collection coming out soon.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not one of those inveterate Jay McInerney bashers. I loved Bright Lights, Big City instantly and I still admire it and reread it regularly. But I remember being pretty disappointed with Ransom, his second novel, a quick follow up that seems to have been rushed to press to capitalize on his sudden fame. Of course, Story of My Life made up for that. And while I agree that his next novel, Brightness Falls, was a more mature work, it simply did not click with me in the same way that Bright Lights and Story did. Those shorter,  hipper, riff-like novels really seem to be McInerney’s strenght, furhter proof of which can be found by reading Model Behavoir,  but of course he wants to be taken more seriously than that. I don’t know. Just my persons conjecture. Also, I’ve always suspected that the title of Brightness Falls was a calculate move on McInerney and his publisher’s part to connect it back to Bright Lights, Big City. But what do I know.

So I guess I’m just wondering if McInerney is putting out this “new” collection just to have something to put out, just because he has enough stories to make a collection, and perhaps his ego needs it. In any case, it might be disingenuous to call it a new collection when it might be more of a collected and new edition or perhaps simply an updated edition. I don’t know.

I’ve always had a rather strange relationship with Jay McInerney and his work. On the one hand, I really dig his writing, and admire much of his work, so much so that when I was younger I was determined to model him, to write my version of Bright Lights, Big City set in Metro Detroit. Lame, I know, but there it is. I’ve followed his career pretty closely, eager for each new book he puts out, and enjoying his nonfiction writing as well, book reviews and wine columns and such. But I have to say when I was in grad school I didn’t talk much about my fetish for writers like McInerney and Brett Easton Ellis, for fear of being looked down on by high brow literary types who’s high standards refused to even aknowledge such poppy writers much less discuss them seriously. But I’ve been out of grad school some 12 years now and I’m still returning to McInereny’s work as well as being interested in his new stuff, but perhaps with a more mature sensibility.

His most recent novel, The Good Life, was okay. I was excited when I discovered it was coming out and I enjoyed it well enough but it seemed like a book that he struggled to write, a book that her perhaps felt he had to write, just to get through it and be done with it so that he could move on, otherwise he might be stopped up indefinitely. He’d gone some eight years without having produced a substantial work of fiction. My hope was that his next book would be a major work for him. But with the news of this “new” story collection, I can’t help but wonder if that was just wishful thinking.

Of course, there is the possibility that this story collection was simply a way to keep his name in the ether while he completes his next novel. But if he wanted to do that one wonders why he simply didn’t issue some kind of 25th anniversary edition of Bright Lights, Big City. It was pubbed in 1984. The 25th anniversary comes up next year. Of course, he may not want that to overshadow his new work, his real new work, not some bullshit story collection.

Having said that, I’ll be keeping an eye out for it and will buy me a copy when it hits the bookstores.


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