You may be surprised to learn it’s been 25 years since the first appearance of Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney’s seminal debut novel about a hedonistic urban yuppie in mid-’80s Manhattan. You have fresh reason to ponder the passage of time next month when Vintage Contemporaries begins relaunching some of its early hits with new designs (in addition to Bright Lights, the imprint introduced classics like Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter and Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero as paperback originals). Designer John Gall has reconceived the first-edition covers, often playing with the original artwork, for 21st-century readers. In the new Bright Lights cover, you can see that the downtown nightspot Odeon is still in operation — though you don’t learn anything about the current price of coke (and you sure hope you can forget about the dreadful film adaptation starring a seriously miscast Michael J. Fox).
Seeing the original Bright Lights again may remind you just how much life in New York — not to mention American literature — has changed in the last quarter century. In an essay in EW five years ago, McInerney noted that “New York is cleaner and far more prosperous and frankly duller” than it was when his book first appeared. The author went on to write: “I was sitting at the bar at the Odeon last week, a restaurant where I logged a lot of hours in the early ’80s. The place is featured on the cover of Bright Lights, Big City. The artwork depicts a young man, my fictional alter ego, standing next to the Odeon, looking up at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Hip restaurants generally have a brief life span, and the way I was living back then — let’s just say I wouldn’t have sold myself life insurance. I never could have imagined that 20 years later only the two of us would be left standing.”