Fresh out of college and following a brief and disastrous stint playing minor league baseball, David Goodwillie moves to New York intent on making his mark as a writer.
Arriving in Manhattan in the mid-nineties, Goodwillie quickly falls into one implausible job after another. He becomes a private investigator, imagining himself as a gumshoe, a hired gun—only to realize that he's more adept at bungling cases than at solving them. When, in his stint as a freelance journalist, he unveils the Mafia in a magazine exposé, he succeeds only in becoming a target of their wrath. As a copywriter for a sports auction house, he imagines documenting the great histories hidden in priceless artifacts but finds himself forced to write about a lock of Mickey Mantle's hair. Even when he seems to break through, somehow becoming the sports expert at Sotheby's auction house—appearing on major news networks, raking in a hefty salary—he's lured away by the promise of Internet millions...just in time for the dot-com crash.
Teeming with the vibrancy of a city in hyperdrive, Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time recounts a dizzying and enthralling search for authenticity in a cynical, superficial—and suddenly dangerous—age.
In his heartbreaking and hilarious struggle to become a big-city writer, Goodwillie becomes something more: an important voice of the lost generation he so elegantly describes.
Goodwillie's chronicle of his New York days and nights in the exuberant years of the late 1990s can be accurately characterized by its own title. A 1995 graduate of Kenyon College, the author failed at a Cincinnati Reds tryout, then went East for the big city's bright lights (comparisons to Jay McInerney's 1985 classic are unavoidable). During his days, Goodwillie changed jobs private investigator, copywriter, journalist, sports expert the way free agents change teams; by night, he swung with the best of them whatever the venue, whatever the side: neocon right or Clintonian left; Upper West or Lower East. The author wisely depicts himself as ironist na f, and he exuberantly relates episode after episode. However, the matters of his steady job, housing and relationships (or lack thereof) never quite cohere into memorable drama. Still, finely wrought details anchor the story in time and place, and perhaps the work's lack of moral weight is the truest mark of the decade it portrays. Goodwillie has written a frenetic picaresque with little soul but lots of rhythm.