The Pursuit of Everything

Brightness Falls by Jay McInerney.jpgHaving witnessed the recent (and on going) collapse of the real estate, mortgage, and banking industries, which were preceded by only a few years by the Dot Com bubble of the late – 90’s – I wonder – will we ever learn?

Brightness Falls is a needed morality tale (and history lesson) for a lost generation. I read this book nearly twenty years ago, yet the characters and story still resonant within me. Our culture is ruled by greed, unbridled ambition and more of everything. This is the fuel for our very lives – a good citizen today is a good consumer. Our responsibility, if we do not wish for the house of cards to fall, is to buy lots of crap – crap we not need, with money we do not have to impress people we do lot like!

Brightness Falls features the quest of a couple for the golden ring – wealth, fame and privilege.

It is a story about all of us – about Americans who came of age in the Reagan Era and beyond. It speaks the truth about what rests in our hearts. To be rich. Why? The rich live a different life. This is the story we have been told, and sold, anyway. Over last century, beginning with the stories of Horatio Alger, we’ve been indoctrinated with the  belief that every man can attain high-society status. Everyone can be rich, famous and “important.” One he does so, all of his troubles will disappear.

For many, this has become an obsession – one for which they will sacrifice their morals, ethics and their very soul to attain. We have witnessed this time and again over the past 30 years. Watch Wall Street, The Smartest Guys in the Room, Margin Call, or Glengarry Glen Ross for great depictions – real and fictional – of our ethical slide.

Brightness Falls places us in the front row of this mania– to witness the gradual surrender of everything of importance to two individuals – all in exchange for the chance to strike it rich. The scenes I remember the most are those involving the main characters father – who is a retired auto worker living a simple, frugal life in Michigan on his pension. The conversations between son and father were heartbreaking – as the son buried all the values of his Mid-western upbringing in exchange for the values of the big city. Father and son had nothing in common. The wholesome values of the father didn’t produce enough fruit fast enough for the son.

This is the story of our times. We look to the founders of Facebook and Google – billionaires before 30 – free to live large, never to punch a clock or drudge through a morning commute. We all want what they have – and we want it now, while we’re young. We do not wish to work, earn, save, and grow. Unfortunately, we do not recognize that from the simple life comes great wisdom. Only through years of experience – of seeing it all – can one begin to understand the world and our place in it. In Brightness Falls we see the crash in slow motion. We see how every decision impacts relationships and compromises the individuals involved. We can see what will happen and learn from the experience of these characters. Slow and steady wins the race!

Be Strong. Stay Hungry. Walk Tall.

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