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Jay McInerney’s novel Brightness Falls—vintage paperback is pictured

Jay McInerney’s 1990s Masterpiece Brightness Falls

Brightness Falls
By Jay McInerney
Paperback 432 pp.
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. (New York) 1992


In his novel Brightness Falls, Jay McInerney pieces together all the important elements that make a great novel. The accuracy with which he depicts the characters and their situations is intimate and thorough. His characters’ development shows the true irregular rhythms of real life: they evolve naturally and organically. He achieved truth in detail physically, psychologically, socially, culturally, emotionally.

The difficult thing, which he pulled off exquisitely, is to not (noticeably) compromise realism while keeping the story compelling. He honed in on the characters during situations, scenes, that have dramatic narrative impact. And every line has a point that is important in the overall novel. Every incident is important in the novel’s progression. Of course much of real life is dull. But his characters simultaneously have narrative interest consistently while having detailed, realistic lives.

That is the master stroke: he surgically extracted dull segments of their real lives without compromising realism and without leaving any transitional scars or seams. He imperceptibly bridges (without the reader sensing ever being on a bridge) from one dramatic or interesting point to another. This is an amazing accomplishment in artistic style.

But piecing together seamlessly all the elements that make a great novel doesn’t guarantee a great novel. That requires an impalpable quantity, an aesthetic genius or something. He has found that quantity. Brightness Falls is a great novel, a real work of art.

It is clear that McInerney worked under a harsh discipline when he wrote Brightness Falls. Readers of contemporary novels should be aware of this fact, and then go out and buy this book and read it as soon as possible.