On Sundays Gothamist runs opinion pieces relevant to life in New York and reviews of recent books and performances. The judgments expressed below are entirely those of the author.

2006_02_05_goodlifecover.jpg I approached Jay McInerney’s The Good Life with a hint of trepidation, always slightly suspicious of any literary representation of that day in September. McInerney didn’t disappoint, at least not on that count. The aftermath of the attack, the atmosphere in the city – both human and architectural – was carefully and truthfully written, and the surrealism of downtown was captured perfectly. Even the behavior of his characters in relation to the disaster that disrupted their lives was believable; their questionable motivation behind their charity, the selfishness mixed with the unfamiliar camaraderie was all recognizable in the memories we all carry of that autumn.

No, it wasn’t how McInerney wrote September 11th itself that I found chafing. In fact, it was the people themselves. We have, in The Good Life, two families. The Calloways, Russell, Corrine and their twin toddlers, are the intelligentsia that McInerney doubtless counts himself amongst. They live in Tribeca, they’ve had affairs, and we open the book with their genuine attempts to keep their family intact – and that’s on September 10th. At the other end of our Manhattan sampling, we have the McGavocks: Luke and Sasha and their teenaged daughter Ashley. Luke was a high-powered moneyman who quit the ratrace to be there for a family that’d been ticking along fine without him. Presuming “fine” includes drugs, charity balls, and blowjobs.

These two families are the center whirlpool of McInerney’s story, with the gap in the skyline playing the part of the ominous background music. Which, to be fair, isn’t so much insensitive as it is brutally true – for many people, the events of September 11th served to starkly highlight the flaws and insecurities in their own lives.

Reading about these families reminded me of the film Closer. Here are beautiful, privileged people doing their damnedest to destroy the lives that they themselves carefully and painstakingly constructed. Was September 11th meant to be an excuse to dismantle their lives under the guise of self-discovery? I spent most of the novel wrestling with the penchant for tragedy to become a permission for cliché. The affair that’s born between two of the characters under the auspices of the charity work they’re doing downtown would make any reader cringe, but for two reasons – both the inappropriateness and the familiarity. This, then, is well-crafted. McInerney, in creating the mother of all clichés, reminds us that cliché is what gets unearthed after any kind of tragedy, and his September 11th was no different.

But I find fault with the novel precisely because of that neatness, the ease with which McInerney dovetails personal destruction to the destruction of the towers. In a rare reversal between life and fiction, I wanted the fiction to be more messy, less accounted-for. The redemptions and salvations that his characters find in the shadow of downtown are too tidy for me. If I wanted the tearjerkers and saviors, I’d relive that autumn myself. McInerney set me up with somewhat abhorrent characters, but he let them fade into their own humanity at the end. I was disappointed.

Another complaint I would lodge was with McInerney’s peripheral characters. We had the ambitious socialite beauty, we had the bad-girl younger sister, we had the drunk-turned-straight, we had the various destructive tawdry affairs, and rarely did McInerney extend them any depth of personality. It felt like they were cardboard bulls-eyes on a shooting range, popping up just long enough for McInerney to lodge a reaction out of his four characters, and then they were gone. Surely, there must have been some dimensionality left over from his main characters for this carousel of New York caricatures?

Ultimately, I needed more messiness. I needed the infidelities to be more raw, I needed the heartache of downtown to be less redeemed. I know what the clichés look like, the attack left them behind on every street corner, in every mourning house. I felt like McInerney, with his privileged characters and desirable addresses, almost got me there, but shied away from dropping all that reality into my lap. Had he let all the threads unravel, it might have felt like a sharp, piercing look at the toll that 9/11 took on the living. Which, really, is what the book is about.