Book Review: The After Party by Anton DiSclafani

The After Party by Anton DiSclafani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher:  Riverhead Books

Summary:   From the nationally bestselling author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls comes a story of 1950s Texas socialites and the one irresistible, controversial woman at the bright, hot center of it all.

Joan 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.

I was in the mood for something from the past but within the last century & owing to a recent Daily Skimm reminder, I hit my TBR pile for The After Party. I bought it months ago because it sounded like something I'd enjoy but hadn't actually got round to reading it. I'm glad I now have done.

It's a tale of two Joans. One fair. One dunne. Both Texan, monied & destined to be touched by socialite worthy tragedy, but only one gets to keep the name. One is effectively renamed in kindergarten, Cece and Joan becomes her raison d'Γͺtre for the next twenty years or so. No, really.

What follows is Cece's recounting of how the lives of Joan & Cece entwined and diverged until it's necessary endpoint. It was one heck of a compelling read. I was frustrated with Joan as I didn't know what was causing her seeming outlandish behavior (but the hints at something scandalous having happened abound) but we only get this story through Cece, who has her own problems. Just as infuriating & worrisome. At times I could see Cece being a true friend but just as often, if not more, I saw her cloying, obsessive manner as something else that I just can't name. Several times when she demands information from Joan or others about Joan, I yelled "It's not your damned business, Cece!" & then had to laugh at myself because I, in turn, felt like it wasn't my damned business either but that's exactly what kept me reading.

Cece crossed the line a lot but I also understood why she would be needy (not as needy as she was but I gave her some latitude). It was ironic to see Cece rail against Joan's cavalier attitude toward her when she was always, not just waiting in the wings but ready to take off at a moment's notice, when Cece treated her own husband the same way. Joan & Cece were alike in that they treated the person who loved them most like an afterthought because they knew they could. Not to spoil, but I also liked the way the story dealt with motherhood & attitudes of shame, especially in "keeping up with the Joneses" environs, surrounding children who are different from "the norm". Also worth noting is DiSclafani's well done portrayal of Cece, the one who never wanted to live anywhere else or know anyone else outside of the cloistered, gilded cage into which she was born & had so little interest in leaving she never at all learned about flying. She didn't even need the whole state of Texas. And Joan, the one who craved new places, experiences & people outside of that same cloistered, gilded cage but didn't realize no one had bothered to teach her how to fly & had surreptitiously had her wings clipped. I'm fairly sure, Joan would have been down with conquering additional planets if the opportunity presented itself.

Joan's scandal was pretty much what you'd think it would be given the time, place and social status here. Still it wasn't disappointing and was well done. The resolutions, while not entirely concrete still felt finished. The time and tone of this reminded me of The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin . If that was your kind of book mind meld, this also may well be. Recommended.

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