Reviews

The Good Life by Jay McInerney

Thomas Scott McKenzie

Television and history books have claimed the dry facts and the archival images of 11 September, but the perfect tone and human nature of this novel has captured the people, their emotions, and their stories.


The Good Life

Publisher: Knopf
Length: 353
Price: $25.00
Author: Jay McInerney
US publication date: 2006-01
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It is the nature of catastrophe that the most mundane of moments are transformed, in the split second it takes for an explosive blast to be heard, into life altering experiences. Jay McInerney, an author tied to New York City in the most personal and literary of ways, experienced just such a moment when he stood on a chair, struggling to fix a broken window shade, and glimpsed a flash of red-orange on the north tower of the World Trade Center. That flash, and the following weeks McInerney served in a soup kitchen feeding policemen, iron workers, and rescue personnel, provided the catalyst for his newest novel, The Good Life.

The novel begins in late summer and introduces the comfortable, but empty life of Corrine and Russell Calloway. The Calloway's were first featured in McInerney's magnificent 1992 novel Brightness Falls, and by early fall of 2001, they've survived a separation, but hit upon a period where their marriage is haunted by suspicion and old ghosts. Meanwhile, wealthy businessman Luke McGavock quit his finance career to work on a book about samurai films but finds himself struggling with direction in his life while trying to save his extravagant teenage daughter from the excesses of her mother. As with any McInerney work, the novel's cast of characters is filled out by a variety of social register debutantes, famous artists, wanton writers, big business executives, and other beautiful people.

Ever since his 1984 debut novel, Bright Lights, Big City, McInerney has been famous for his ability to chronicle the idiosyncrasies of the affluent. And this current novel is proof that he hasn't lost his eye for social detail. This is a group of people who joke that one of the greatest lies is when a photographer says "just one more", and where cooking has become the "new sphere of masculine competition... comparing notes on butchers and cutlery the way they used to deconstruct stereo equipment, garage bands, and young novelists." These kinds of details are found throughout The Good Life and they are our generation's version of the finely tailored shirts and yellow town cars that cause so many critics to compare McInerney to F. Scott Fitzgerald. But these class observations, engaging as they are, serve only as a spice to the novel's primary ingredient.

The attack of 11 September itself is left to our memory, appropriately realizing that the images from television were scorched into consciousness, and no author could improve, alter, or disagree with those images that still plague so many of us. The post 9/11 New York City is introduced simply. "Ash Wednesday. The debris -- the paper and sooty dust -- had surged up the avenues and stopped at Duane Street."

Corrine meets Luke as he staggers up West Broadway, covered in ash, and disoriented:

Yesterday morning, and well into the afternoon, thousands had made this same march up West Broadway, fleeing the tilting plume of smoke, covered in the same gray ash, slogging through it as the cerulean sky rained paper down on them -- a Black Mass version of the old ticker-tape parades of lower Broadway. It was as if this solitary figure was re-enacting the retreat of an already-famous battle.

Corrine hands this stranger her bottled water, notices the blood and grime on his hands, and answers his question as to what day it is. He recalls his experiences at the World Trade Center and the frantic search for his lost friend. The two dazed New Yorkers share a moment on the street and bond in the way that cataclysms weld people together. Corrine gives Luke her phone number and asks him to call when he safely makes it home:

It was in many respects a typical encounter on the day after, one of thousands between stunned and needy strangers, the kind of thing she might have recalled months or years later when something reminded her of that time or someone asked her where she'd been that day.

From a plot perspective, the novel hinges on that chance meeting. Corrine and Luke dive into the energy, despair, and exhilaration of volunteering at a soup kitchen during a time when most inhabitants of the city strove to find meaning, respite, and a way to become better people. They find a kinship and stand together as their lives and marriages crumble. In a time when the characters shed tears without warning, discover their children's sexual involvements, suffer their spouses high profile affairs, and merely deciding upon an outfit to wear to a party is a trial, Corrine and Luke savor each other's stabilizing influences. In addition to being a novel about a heartrending time in our nation's history, The Good Life is also a powerful novel about the intoxication of love.

The mastery of The Good Life lies not in plot twists or stylistic pyrotechnics. Instead, the novel is served best by the near perfect pitch and tone of McInerney's portrayal of that difficult time. This is a story that could easily have been overly sentimental and sweet. Or, it could have easily wallowed in despair and pain. McInerney struck a perfect balance between the good and the bad, the determination to serve our fellow man, the anger of victimized New Yorkers, the way some people chose to help and others retreated further into their own selfishness. Not every single person in New York City on that fateful day was a hero or a villain. And McInerney doesn't take the easy way of portraying his characters in those simple terms either. "There were clichés of response to that event that we had to get past," McInerney says. "People did not suddenly become saintly overnight, as much as we all might have wanted to change and even tried to. We remained human." It is in this well-balanced, intrinsically human portrayal that McInerney succeeds with The Good Life. Television and history books have claimed the dry facts and the archival images of 11 September. But the perfect tone and human nature of this novel has captured the people, their emotions, and their stories.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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