☆☆➹⁀☆ 4 stars☆➹⁀☆☆
What it’s about:
Fortier is the epitome of Texas glamour and the center of the 1950s Houston social scene. Tall, blonde, beautiful, and strong, she dominates the room and the gossip columns. Every man who sees her seems to want her; every woman just wants to be her. But this is a highly ordered world of garden clubs and debutante balls. The money may flow as freely as the oil, but the freedom and power all belong to the men. What happens when a woman of indecorous appetites and desires like Joan wants more? What does it do to her best friend?
Devoted to Joan since childhood, Cece Buchanan is either her chaperone or her partner in crime, depending on whom you ask. But as Joan’s radical behavior escalates, Cece’s perspective shifts—forcing one provocative choice to appear the only one there is.
A thrilling glimpse into the sphere of the rich and beautiful at a memorable moment in history, The After Party unfurls a story of friendship as obsessive, euphoric, consuming, and complicated as any romance.
The After Party by Anton DiScalfani is a character-driven novel about young socialites in 1950s Houston. Many will find the 1950s attitudes of these high-society ladies infuriating, however, a historic fiction should be true to its era. People, mostly women, were judged by their conduct and “morality”. Pre-marital intimacy could lead to a reputation, and an “accident” would mean scandal.
The After Party is told in first person narrative by adult Cece Buchanan. The story travels back and forth in time as she explores the dynamics of her friendship with Joan and as she desperately tries to unravel the secret that Joan is keeping from her. The cloying oppressiveness of River Oaks suburbia is the first thing that hits the modern-day reader. The author immerses his readers in the slow-paced daily life of the upper-echelon of suburban society. There is not much that goes on between lunch with the ladies and the cocktail hour besides gossiping on the phone.
Joan and Joan meet in kindergarten. The first day of school becomes a defining moment for one Joan, the less pretty Joan. The teacher dubs Joan Cecelia “Cece” in an effort to reduce confusion, and from that moment on, Cece lives in the other Joan’s shadow. I found it interesting that on one name-meaning website, that Joan means “Gift from God” and Cecelia means “Blind”; DiScalfani’s characters do seem to reflect their name meanings. Cece is a moth to Joan Fortier’s flame.
“She made a moment feel endless. She made you feel endless—you would never age.” –Cece
Cece’s turbulent childhood makes her long for stability and conformity. Joan, on the other hand, is treated like a princess by her upstanding parents. Her family and life appear idyllic. Her father dotes on her and treats her like she could have everything and anything. He gives her everything he would give a son except for the freedom. A son would get his own money to manage, but Joan’s financial support comes with strings attached. Unlike Cece, Joan wants more. Joan feels stifled by her pre-ordained role. She rebels in a way that hurts her more than it hurts her parents. Her rebellion is without goal, and it is basically a temper tantrum on a grand scale.
The dynamic between Cece and Joan is interesting. Cece is insecure and needy; she gloms onto Joan. Her obsession with Joan is just a tad unhealthy. She takes whatever Joan dishes. She’s drank the “Joan Koolaid” like so many others in town. Although most of their group have come to realize that Joan gets away with entirely too much—at least compared to the rest of the group who live within the social norms of the times—Cece continues to forgive Joan’s every indiscretion. She even makes excuses for her behavior to their friends. Cece’s behavior is like that of an obsessed fan or a loyal pet. She wants to be Joan; she is envious of Joan’s money and family. After all the secrets have been shared, and Joan’s glamour has tarnished, Cece final tires of the role she has been given in Joan’s life.
“This was never my home. I was a live-in who helped you with your daughter.” –Cece
Neither main character is particularly likable. One is a self-destructive narcissist who tells a good story of dreams and ideas but doesn’t have the chutzpah to follow through. The other is spineless and subservient, but in the end, she takes back her life. While Joan’s mysterious secret might seem anticlimactic in modern times, it would be scandalous in certain social circles of the 1950s. Cece’s obsession with discovering the secret ultimately sets them both free. DiScalfani’s tale is a portrait of female friendships. It is a story of love, friendship and to some degree self-discovery and growth.