Jay McInerney's The Good Life joins the body of fiction grappling with the events of September 11, 2001, and the various landscapes literal, personal, political forever altered by that day. McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City) focuses his attention largely on Corinne Calloway and Luke McGavock, two strangers who have an otherworldly encounter in the early hours of September 12, then meet again as volunteers in a impromptu soup kitchen serving the needs of Ground Zero workers. Corinne, a would-be screenwriter (significantly of Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter) whose twins are the result of a tangled fertility story, has become a connoisseur of guilt, battling marital lethargy and money concerns. Luke has given up his lucrative job with vague notions of writing a book and becoming closer to his wife, a professional beauty, and teenaged daughter.

Although the attacks have made unlikely people more proximate in some cases, Corinne is able to get a spot in the soup kitchen only because she knows the right person: [e]veryone wanted to volunteer, to get close, to work off the shock, to feel useful, to observe the carnage, to help. Favors are called in to get tours of Ground Zero. A publisher colleague of Corinne's husband talks of get[ting] in the nine/eleven business ; he worries about a 9/11 widow being agented up already. It's no surprise when Corinne and Luke become good friends and ultimately fall in love, despite what Corinne recognizes is really a kind of wartime intimacy, the kind of camaraderie of strangers in a lifeboat. As New York City struggles to regain some kind of normalcy, Luke and Corinne wrestle with whether to return to the lives they had before.

The Good Life is suffused with a deep sadness that is as much individual as collective and that has everything to do with the difference between the good life and a good life, and how good people make that distinction. Joanne Collings writes from Washington, D.C.

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