Monday, October 09, 2006


I just finished two books I really enjoyed. That does not happen so often for me, so I am quite pleased. The first was Crossing California by Adam Langer. I won't write a bunch about it. The review I linked is quite good. Plus, as good as I think the book would be for anyone else, I spent a fair amount of the late Reagan years in the same neighborhoods discussed in the book. That made it all the more interesting, but I have no idea how it would translate for non-North Siders. The second book is Utterly Monkey by Ian Laird. This is the book that sparked a thousand words (or however long this blog post ends up being). By the way, spoiler alert rules apply.

As I was reading Utterly Monkey I realized that the structure, development, and situation in many ways mirrored a great, underappreciated book from the 1980s. That book is Bright Lights, Big City. Keep in mind, literatos out there, that I last read Bright Lights as a high school senior when I had to read The Great Gatsby, Bright Lights, Big City, and Less Than Zero to make a comparative argument of the overly wealthy in literature in the 1920s versus the 1980s. It's been a little while (closer to 20 years than 15 at this point). With that caveat in mind, off we go.

So, in Bright Lights there is a guy who works as a fact checker for a magazine in New York. His boss really hates him, and he doesn't seem to do his job often, or well. The job is apparently good enough for him to live in a nice Manhattan apartment and snort a LOT of cocaine. He also has a train-wreck of a marriage to a fashion model. He parties. He meets people who are vacuous. His life is terrible. Suddenly, he has a revelation. He is outside a club. The sun is coming up. He trades his Ray Bans for some fresh baked rolls, and we realize that he has traded his empty life for the sustenance of fresh white bread. Summary: boy's life is in the toilet from too much partying and hanging out with vacuous people so he gets some bread.

In contrast, in Utterly Monkey there is a guy from a little town in Northern Ireland who goes to London and becomes an associate in a Magic Circle firm. His bosses hate him, and he doesn't seem to be very good at his job. He works plenty, and lives in a nice London townhouse. He is not above smoking some weed, or hash, but cocaine seems to be well beyond him. He has just broken up with his girlfriend. Anyway, a buddy from his bad days in Northern Ireland shows up on the run from some Protestant paramilitaries. This reminds him of the people back in Northern Ireland. He then is assigned to a matter in which his client is going to put 3,000 Northern Irish out of work if their bid is successful (the other bidder will invest in the company instead). He snaps while taking the proposal to the printers, throws it into the Thames, and is reborn as a decent, (soon to be) non-practicing attorney.

So, what have we learned? Back in the 1980s people got their lives in order by quitting drugs, quitting partying and trying to find their way into something approaching respectable company. By the 2000s the key is to quit your very good paying job and hang out with your skid buddies from home. Compare THAT to The Great Gatsby.


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