The heading above was the subject line of the email in which Bob Moyer sent me this, his latest book review. He’s making the point that yes, this book is a beach book, in a way, but we’re not behind on our review because by the calendar, it’s still summer for a few days. And more important, this is a good book to read whatever the season. Sounds about right to me.
Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer
THE LAST BOOK PARTY. By Karen Dukess. Henry Holt. 240 pages. $27.
The Last Book Party is a festive occasion for those who love books, as well as the reading, writing and publishing of them. Readers will at least take away a list of books they haven’t heard of, or, at least, not thought of for some time.
That list, however, is just icing on this multilayered cake of a novel. This is a bildungsroman, a coming of age, coming into talent novel like Goodbye, Columbus, and Bright Lights, Big City,both of which the author references.
Set in 1985, the book sits in that poignant sweet spot between the decline of the major publishing houses, and the rise of the internet. Twenty-five-year-old Eve Rosen, trapped in a dead end publishing job, jumps at the chance to work as a summer assistant to a famous magazine writer. A wannabe writer, she immediately gets star struck by the stream of writers that flows from Boston and New York into Cape Cod for the summer. She is astounded by how those writers “… lived outside the conventions that guided my parents and their friends … creative people, real writers and artists, made their own rules.” And Eve desperately wants to know those rules, the secrets to their society. She looks for inspirational conversation, dialogue, even the whisper of the Muse. The reader tags along while she tries to parse out the secrets of their trade. She despairs of her situation: “I hadn’t grown up charmed or tortured; there wasn’t anything unusual about me at all. How could an ordinary life like mine result in a story worth telling?”
First-time author Karen Dukess shows us just how it’s done. As Eve moves through the summer, the scales fall from her eyes. She is schooled by the latest wunderkind, whose work she knows to be a “… complicated brew of ambition, talent, fear, shame, dishonesty and hard work.” She finds marital discord, politics, jealousy, even anti-Semitism, but, most important, she finds herself. At the end of the summer, her boss throws his annual book party, when guests dress as a fictional character they wish to be. By the time of The Last Book Party, Eve may not be able to tell who everyone else is, but she has a much better idea who she is.
If there is a niche for book/beach books, The Last Book Party is at the top of the list.