It’s been a long time since Jay McInerney attended a BEA, “at least 10 years,” says the author, whose highly anticipated new novel, Bright, Precious Days (Knopf) will land in bookstores this August. So why now? “Well, I have a book coming out, and it’s a pretty important book in my career. I haven’t published a work of fiction in a while so I wanted to connect with booksellers and help get it out there.”
Russell and Corrine Calloway, the couple first introduced in Brightness Falls and revisited in The Good Life, return in what has become a trilogy. McInerney says, “In some ways, I think it might be the best book in the series,” a series he didn’t set out to write.
But he is quick to point out that he planned it to be—and has succeeded, according to those fortunate to get their hands on a galley —“a completely freestanding book.”
In 2008, as the promise of President Obama glows, Russell and Corrine are the quintessential New York couple who have it all: book parties one night, high-charity events the next, a loft in Tribeca and summers in the Hamptons. But the high cost they pay for living the New York dream takes its toll as the financial crisis looms and their relationship falters. Through them, McInerney continues telling the “history of our times in New York, something,” he says that he’s been trying to record for the past 30 years.
When he sat down to the write the latest installment, he began with a distinct image—“a bunch of people sitting around a loft in Tribeca watching the election returns even if their savings are evaporating, wondering if they are going to be able to send their kids to college. That was the inspiration that set me writing again.”
While the book is set amid the world of publishing, McInerney claims that he didn’t consciously set out to play a roman à clef game. But “as someone who has lived in New York for 35 years and has a lot of close friends in the publishing industry, and who publishes books every few years, I certainly have role models,” he says.
In the excerpt below, Russell, now an independent publisher, is about to risk it all on a deal. Anyone see a role model here?
Excerpt from Bright, Precious Days
At ten thirty he punched in the number. He could’ve had Gita make the call and ask Briskin’s assistant to hold for him, but that wasn’t Russell’s style. Briskin made him wait several minutes before picking up.
“Speak to me.”
“I want to pre-empt the Kohout.”
“I hope you have a large figure in mind.”
“It seems plenty big to me.”
“You probably believe it when your wife says that
about your dick. But let’s hear it anyway.
“Are you fucking kidding me? You call that a pre-empt?”
“This will be our top title of the year. And I’ll be there with Phillip every step of the way. He’s worked with me and I think he’d like to again.
He knows I’m a good editor and somebody he can trust.”
“Russell, be serious. I can’t go to my client with this.”
“The worst he can say is no.”
“He could say a lot worse and so can I. If you were on fire I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on you for seven-fifty,” he said, before hanging up.
Russell plodded along through the morning, unable to focus as he tried to decide whether to call back and sweeten the offer or wait Briskin out. Maybe, he thought, he should just sit tight. Maybe he’d just dodged a bullet. He had a somewhat distracted lunch at Soho House with David Cohen, the young editor he’d taken with him from Corbin, Dern. David was a keen advocate of the Kohout book and urged Russell to up his offer. The rooftop restaurant had just reopened for the season, and it seemed almost miraculous to dine outside, with the sun on your face, looking out over the Hudson, the slightest fetid whiff of which reached him on the breeze.
He’d just settled back into his office when Gita told him Briskin was on the line.
“Give me a million, “ Briskin says.
“Nine hundred and we keep world rights.”
“Try again. A million and I give the U.K. That’s the best I can do.”
That Briskin was calling at all Russell interpreted as a sign of weakness.
“A million and world rights,” he said. “Final offer.”
“Come on, Russell, world rights might not be that big a factor on this book.”
“Then, you shouldn’t mind giving them to us.”
“Fuck you,” he said before hanging up again.
Russell’s pulse was racing, his face flushed. As the adrenaline subsided, he found himself disappointed and second-guessing his tactics, but later, when Jonathan and David came in for an update, he felt relieved.
“Well, it wasn’t really our kind of book anyway,” Jonathan said. “I wouldn’t know how to play this to the reviewers.”
“Maybe we can just suffocate in our comfortable little niche, “ David said.
“We need to grow.”
“Of course,” David said.
“We don’t do that blockbuster thing,” Jonathan countered.
How easy it is, Russell thought, to be a purist in your twenties.
Gita buzzed and said that Briskin was on the line. All at once the silence in the office was palpable. Russell picked up the receiver.
“All right,” Briskin said, “we have a deal. I have to tell you I advised my client against it.”
“If I didn’t think we could do right by this book I wouldn’t have pushed so hard. I’m going to do everything in my power—”
“Spare me the fucking speech and send over the contract.”
“Okay,” he said, feeling giddy and lightheaded as he hung up the phone.
“We got world rights?” Jonathan asked.
Russell nodded. “I’ll tell Tom to get busy on it.”
“You all right?”
“I think so,” Russell said, standing up and walking unsteadily to the bathroom, where he threw up what was left of his lunch.
McInerney will be signing ARCs at the Knopf booth (2433), tomorrow, 2:30–3:30 p.m.
This article appeared in the May 11, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.