August 4, 2007

The Good Life
Jay McInerney

Trauma Drama – About a dozen years ago, my friend Gaylord Gieseke was the first (or, at least, among the first, but, certainly, I recall her lasting influence) to open my eyes to the implications of the facts that babies are learning from their earliest moments, days, weeks and months – and that healthy social-emotional development is as important as cognitive development. A few weeks ago, Gaylord and I enjoyed another lively conversation; this time she got me thinking about the profound, widespread, massive trauma we are experiencing together as a nation: the compound trauma of terror attacks, followed by brutal vengeance; wars, criminal in intent and ineptly managed; torture, masterminded by our alleged leaders and condoned by a shell-shocked populace; and Hurricane Katrina, managed equally ineptly ‘til this very day by every level of government, a continuing crime also condoned by a shaken citizenry. In other words, we have been traumatized and brutalized – and told by our politicians to pretend as if nothing is wrong or unacceptable. Dr. Jack Shonkoff, at the Harvard Center on Children, talks about children who experience prolonged “toxic stress” and their inability to develop appropriately as human beings. We – all of us, each of us – are still suffering the high toxicity of prolonged, compounded national trauma and we leave it unacknowledged. A part of each of us is deadened and, to some extent, we have become emotional zombies, wandering the streets, day and night, shuffling along with little other purpose than to merely survive. And that’s us surviving in relatively peaceful surroundings; imagine the day-to-day of war zone living. The Good Life focuses on a handful of New Yorkers surviving in the aftermath of 9/11. Jay McInerney does an impressive job of conveying the lingering numbness, loss and confusion. McInerney is keenly observant (here, he summarizes the American way of life as “live to spend, dress to kill, shop and fuck your way to happiness”), wickedly funny (here, he has one character telling Paul Auster to read John Grisham "to bone up on plotting,") and often poetic (here writing, “Remembering, dimly, that the night was never long enough when you were falling in love.”) Can fiction writers be successful where fact writers and policymakers have demonstrated such tragic failure, namely, in telling the truth? Yes.


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