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The Fading Light of Icons From the 1980s


By Jay McInerney

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Alfred A. Knopf

275 pp., $24

In the 1980s, "Bright Lights, Big City," a sharp-eyed novel about the soul-numbing scrabble for success among New York yuppies, established Jay McInerney as the voice of his generation.

But now it's the 1990s, and his newest book, "Model Behavior," a novella and seven stories, finds McInerney in a time-warp. Judging from the parade of characters in this collection, the '90s look a whole lot like the '80s.

In the novella and many of the stories, the setting is once again Manhattan, painted by McInerney as a modern-day Mt. Olympus where the media reign. A glittering pantheon of models, movie stars, publishers, and producers entertain themselves with Dionysian diversions of sex, drugs, and other forms of "model behavior."

There's no denying that McInerney is an apt chronicler of this particular world. His ear for the barbed remark or ripe piece of gossip that can crush a career is unfailingly sharp. The rare moments when real emotions startle his characters into abandonment of their fashionable faades are moving.

But McInerney seems to have lost the knack for accurately taking his generation's pulse. "Model Behavior" is little more than a parade of icons from an earlier era. It's telling that Tom Wolfe, McInerney's fellow arbiter of the '80s Zeitgeist, has chosen to set his new novel of the '90s in the "new" South. One wishes McInerney had been as wise and gone in search of a fresh social landscape.

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Despite the agility of its prose, "Model Behavior" leaves one with the sense that McInerney is scaling the wrong mountain.

* Elissa Adams is director of new play development at the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis.

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