Even 14 years after his dazzling debut, Jay McInerney is still the whipping boy for the literary brat pack of the mid 1980s, if only because he's the only one who continues to publish. Older critics have always seemed preoccupied with pointing out the flaws of his novels. They jeered Bright Lights, Big City because it was brazenly written in second person. They trashed the satiric Story of My Life. They said Brightness Falls was an ambitious failure, and that The Last of the Savages was trying too hard to do too much. And in advance, the criticism from old-guard literati will be that McInerney's latest, Model Behavior, will be derided for just being too too too stylish, too irreverent, too meta-, too indulgent. With all due respect to my elders, these critics are dead wrong, and Model Behavior continues McInerney's project to track the arc of a generation reared on television and cynically soured by the excesses of a media culture fixated on glamour and capital. While Brightness Falls and The Last of the Savages don't have the outright humor of Bright Lights, Big City or Story of My Life, McInerney has returned to comic form in Model Behavior. The gloriously outrageous novel chronicles the lifestyles of the not-so-rich and semi-famous, the characters whose alternating self-love and self-loathing give the New York literary/magazine scene a singular dysfunction. Connor McKnight is having a truly awful time: his model/girlfriend appears to have left him with no explanation, his moody writer friend Jeremy is worried about an upcoming review in the Times, his sister doesn't eat, his gruff parents are coming for Thanksgiving, and his contract writing fluffy celebrity profiles will most likely not be renewed. Such a set-up allows McInerney to return to the themes and stylistics of his earlier work. He overlays the vodka-doused story of Connor with cheeky pokes at popular culture, using his sardonic pen to skewer the self-anointed beautiful people, revenge-seeking book reviewers, and brash magazine editors. McInerney is sly, mischievous, and sometimes downright nasty as he writes his most trenchant social critique since Story of My Life. It is obvious, though, that he's having fun, writing short sections that contain everything from e-mail messages to book reviews. These coiled vignettes push the novel's comedic envelope, but they also demonstrate McInerney's unfailing desire to play innovatively with structure and form. Despite the numerous digs at anything and everything slick and postmodern, McInerney is a truly human writer, lending his flailing characters a distinctive pathos not normally found in such self-reflexive novels. The bad reviews will come, no doubt. Just don't believe the hype. Model Behavior helps further cement McInerney's place among the finest writers working today. Mark Luce is a writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas.

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