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Slave of New York

It was the possibility of misrepresentation—or, at the very least, overemphasis—of such "facts" that prompted McInerney to refuse at first to cooperate on this article, even though it would coincide with the publication of his book.

"Jay just wants to focus on his work," explained Fisketjon in July.

Once he finally changed his mind—his only stated proviso being "I won't talk about restaurants or girls"—the question became:

Why is Jay McInerney so afraid?

What, after all, is so terrible about being a literary celebrity? Is it so bad to be invited everywhere and waved through the velvet ropes? Isn't it a thrill to meet all the authors you've respected and the actors you've admired? And doesn't all of it mean something rather important—that a Jay McInerney book will be read by far more people than one by a less famous novelist?

"I feel that there's a lot of would-be guardians of the culture who think that high-minded literary purpose and the life that gets chronicled in the gossip columns, that these two things are incompatible," McInerney answered late one afternoon at the White Horse, over a vodka. "Indeed, when you look at someone like Truman Capote, you have to say, 'Jesus Christ, maybe they are.'

"I'm in a period of reevaluation. On the one hand, I want to say, 'F--- you, I want to drink as much of it in as I can and process it through my own body and mind, because it's been given to me and because it's a unique vantage point.' At this moment, a certain amount of opportunity to live and observe and slip and fall has been given to me. And it is grist for my mill. And it is exactly the kind of grist that seems to fire me up.

"On the other hand, I'm trying to work out a personal equilibrium between the life and the work that ensures that the work remains good and also that I don't lose—that the image that builds up around me isn't too easy to turn into a parody. I don't want to do that to myself. I'm too young to be a one-note kind of guy when I have a more symphonic mind.

"For me to move to Vermont and build a wall around my house—number one, it's not me. It is Salinger. Number two, what the hell am I going to write about? That's the danger. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote.

"But you can't retire at 33."

On the mid-August afternoon that Jay McInerney is boarding a plane for Europe, a shirtless man on the corner of 57th Street and Broadway has established a brisk street-level book business. He is new to the corner, trying to compete with the mighty Coliseum Books by undercutting the prices. With his wizened face and well-built torso, he is a bizarre study in contrasts.

So are his books.

For $10, you can get an advance copy of Story of My Life. God knows how it got there; copies have just arrived in bookstores. But there it is, lying on the sidewalk—and for all the Jay McInerney hype, it sits there hour after hour, unsold at its bargain price. Oddly enough, it sits right alongside The Great Gatsby.

Would it pain McInerney to see his book lying unsold? Or would it gratify him to know that he is sharing the sidewalk with Fitzgerald?

Like McInerney, F. Scott Fitzgerald was obsessed with himself and the times he lived in—an era of parties and passion he dubbed the Jazz Age.

"It bore him up," Fitzgerald once wrote of himself and the era he chronicled, "flattered him and gave him more money than he had dreamed of, simply for telling people that he felt as they did."


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