I ran my hands along the spines… I pulled out a mystery with a bright red cover and opened it, hearing the slight crack in the binding. I took a deep breath and smelled the paper, which, despite being printed just weeks ago, had the same inky, musty scent of the picture books I’d loved as a child.
Karen Dukess – The Last Book Party
If you can smell that same smell just by reading that quote, you are probably going to enjoy The Last Book Party.
It’s the summer of 1987. Eve Rosen is an aspiring writer and a floundering 25-year-old working as an assistant for a publisher in New York. She has grown up vacationing in Cape Cod – Truro to be exact – and is keenly aware of the social circles in this town.
There is the elite circle of writers, artists, and socialites and then there are families like her own who are more modest in their income but are constantly striving to make it into that elusive inner circle.
One evening she is invited to a party at the summer home of Henry Grey, a long-time writer for The New Yorker. Eve works for the publisher that Henry has submitted his memoir to and as a result, they regularly correspond.
At the party, in passing, Henry offers Eve a job as essentially his research assistant. But as summer comes to a close, she returns to the city and her job with the publisher Hodder, Strike.
But after being passed over for a promotion, Eve takes Henry up on his offer; looking for a change and even inspiration to finally begin writing.
The characters in this book are both flawed and intriguing.
Jeremy Grand is a young author and a phenom on the brink of publishing his first novel with Eve’s former employer. He is both arrogant and charming.
Henry and his wife Tillie, a famous poet in her own right, are not all that they appear to be in public and Eve quickly discovers this when she begins working in Henry’s home.
And Eve’s parents – ever aware of the class-like system in Cape Cod, raise Eve in the shadow of her mathematical genius of an older brother. They are not subtle about their wishes for her to find a husband and show little interest in her writing aspirations.
I almost always enjoy books about writers, the writing and publishing process, and the flawed individuals behind their work. This book has no shortage of these things. And Henry as a writer for my favorite magazine?
There is a thread of romance, a thread of struggling creatives, a thread of commentary on social classes, and of course a thread of writing and the frustrations that come with that process.
At times I didn’t see how these threads were going to weave together but they did at Henry and Tillie’s Book Party. This party was invitation only where the guests came dressed as book characters – which was fun for me as a lover of literature – and wow, did those threads connect and unravel all at the same time.
This book was such a pleasant surprise to me! It is on the short side but packed with complex relationships and multiple storylines. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy books about writing and the authors that create the stories for us to read. It is well written and reads like a book written by a friend.
I finished it in less than 24 hours and it’s one of my favorite books of the summer!