One of our recommended books for 2019 is The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess.

THE LAST BOOK PARTY


A propulsive tale of ambition and romance, set in the publishing world of 1980’s New York and the timeless beaches of Cape Cod.

In the summer of 1987, 25-year-old Eve Rosen is an aspiring writer languishing in a low-level assistant job, unable to shake the shadow of growing up with her brilliant brother. With her professional ambitions floundering, Eve jumps at the chance to attend an early summer gathering at the Cape Cod home of famed New Yorker writer Henry Grey and his poet wife, Tillie.

Dazzled by the guests and her burgeoning crush on the hosts’ artistic son,

more …

A propulsive tale of ambition and romance, set in the publishing world of 1980’s New York and the timeless beaches of Cape Cod.

In the summer of 1987, 25-year-old Eve Rosen is an aspiring writer languishing in a low-level assistant job, unable to shake the shadow of growing up with her brilliant brother. With her professional ambitions floundering, Eve jumps at the chance to attend an early summer gathering at the Cape Cod home of famed New Yorker writer Henry Grey and his poet wife, Tillie.

Dazzled by the guests and her burgeoning crush on the hosts’ artistic son, Eve lands a new job as Henry Grey’s research assistant and an invitation to Henry and Tillie’s exclusive and famed “Book Party”— where attendees dress as literary characters. But by the night of the party, Eve discovers uncomfortable truths about her summer entanglements and understands that the literary world she so desperately wanted to be a part of is not at all what it seems.

A page-turning, coming-of-age story, written with a lyrical sense of place and a profound appreciation for the sustaining power of books, Karen Dukess’s The Last Book Party shows what happens when youth and experience collide and what it takes to find your own voice.

less …
  • Henry Holt and Co.
  • Hardcover
  • 256 Pages
  • 9781250225474

Buy the Book

$27.00

indies Bookstore indies Bookstore

About Karen Dukess

Karen Dukess is the author of The Last Book Party, credit Nina SubinWith a background in newspaper and magazine journalism, Karen Dukess spent eight years as a speechwriter on gender equality at the United Nations Development Programme. She is a graduate of Brown University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and lives in Pelham, New York.

Author Website

Praise

Summer 2019 B&N Discover Great New Writers Selection
A July 2019 Indie Next List Great Read
One of Parade’s Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2019
An O Magazine Best Beach Read of 2019
A New York Post Best Beach Read of 2019

The Last Book Party is a delight. Reading this story of a young woman trying to find herself while surrounded by the bohemian literary scene during a summer on the Cape in the late ’80s, I found myself nodding along in so many moments and dreading the last page. Karen Dukess has rendered a wonderful world to spend time in.” —Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six

“This coming-of-age novels offers up a healthy dose of late ’80s nostalgia, and it’s a breezy read for book enthusiasts.” O Magazine

“A book that will make you nostalgic about both 1980s NYC and book publishing.”  The New York Post

[The Last Book Party] is sure to be my number one recommendation of the summer!. . . .This book is a bibliophile’s heaven, and I’m sure there could be no better summer read!” —Summersays.com

“Part coming of age, part gossipy peek into the enclave of writers, editors, poets, and artists who annually escaped the heat of Boston and New York to talk, drink, and work on Cape Cod, this semi-nostalgic debut is the ideal summer read for book people.” Library Journal, starred review

The Last Book Party is a delight. A story of a young woman trying to find herself while surrounded by the bohemian literary scene during a summer on the Cape in the late 80s, I found myself nodding along in so many moments and dreading the last page. Karen Dukess has rendered a wonderful world to spend time in.” —Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & The Six

The Last Book Party captures a world tantalizingly close to the surface of memory, in which things now lost to time mattered a great deal, and the Internet era was slouching toward us to be born. This Orphic book goes down to retrieve a beloved New York, and the pleasant ache at its heart is that it can’t bring it back forever. Charming, lovely, and written with a light touch, this book captures the longing and unease of summer romance amid the complexity of post-graduate life. Shades of Goodbye, Columbus, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and Bright Lights, Big City haunt its pages.” —Matthew Thomas, New York Times-bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves

“Laced with the light of its Cape Cod setting, The Last Book Party details a 1980s summer among the literary set that has far-flung consequences for all its characters. As much as the book focuses on love affairs between people, readers will leave inspired by the real love affair here: between Karen Dukess and the world of reading and writing that she illuminates.” —Stephanie Clifford, New York Times bestselling author of Everybody Rise

“Karen Dukess has written a modern yet timeless coming-of-age story about friendship, romance, and one young woman’s complicated relationship with a wickedly charming family of literary superstars. Emotional and evocative, The Last Book Party left me aching for the hard lessons of youth, trembling with hope—and utterly transfixed until the final page.” —Ann Mah, bestselling author of The Lost Vintage

“This bittersweet summer romance had me turning pages right up to the end. If you love books about books—and if you’ve ever dressed up as your favorite literary character—this is a party you won’t want to miss.” —Jason Rekulak, author of The Impossible Fortress

The Last Book Party made me incredibly nostalgic for an iconic literary world of New York that is no more, one that smells of cigarettes, whiskey on the rocks, promiscuity, and miraculous bursts of luck. Karen Dukess’ coming of age tale is a magnifying lens from the past that shows us a glimpse of who we are (and can be) today. A story from 1987 that is surprisingly in dialogue with a contemporary conversation about what it means to be a woman, a writer, and an artist struggling to find a place, The Last Book Party is a novel about a young woman in search for a voice written by a writer who has clearly found hers.” —Chiara Barzini author of Things That Happened Before The Earthquake

“The writing is as breezy as the air in this Cape-Cod-meets-Fifth-Avenue publishing world bildungsroman.” —Lucinda Rosenfeld, author of Class

“Read this book. Read it alone—you’ll laugh out loud. And read it slowly, because you won’t want it to end. Through heart-wrenching twists and hilarious turns, The Last Book Party tells the ultimately uplifting universal tale of the breakthrough that comes of a young woman’s shattered illusions.” —Suzy Becker, bestselling author-illustrator of All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat and I Had Brain Surgery, What’s Your Excuse?

“Readers aching for the sun-dappled intrigue of André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name or the wit of Francine Prose’s Blue Angel will find a kindred reading experience here…Mixing ambivalence, notalgia and the power of innocence in an idyllic setting, this journey of self-discovery is an ideal summer read for those who might shun more typical ‘beach-read’ offerings.” Booklist

“Written with fresh confidence and verve, this first novel is a bibliophile’s delight, with plenty of title-dropping and humorous digs at the publishing scene of the 1980s. The lyrical evocations of the Cape Cod landscape will also enchant readers seeking that perfect summer read.” —Kirkus

“Aspiring writer Eve Rosen finds herself unhappy in her job as an assistant. When she gets invited to attend a party thrown by a writer she admires, she jumps at the opportunity. Getting tangled up in this new world, she quickly learns that the literary world holds dark secrets she never saw coming.” —Parade

Discussion Questions

1. The Last Book Party is the title of the book, but it is only a small part of the book. Did you expect this? Why do you think the book party is so important to Eve and the other characters? What does it represent?

2. On page 16 Alva tells Eve to read I Capture the Castle even though Eve says she has already read it. Why do you think she chose that book? What was she trying to communicate to Eve? How does I Capture the Castle parallel The Last Book Party? (If you haven’t read I Capture the Castle, you can look up a quick summary, or your group could read both books and consider both narrators.)

3. Place is a large part of this book. Eve has a strong attachment to the Cape and has memorized most of the environment. Why do you think this environment is so soothing for Eve? What do you notice differently about the way she thinks about Florida versus the Cape?

4. Eve seems a bit naïve to the relationships and identities of many characters, but on page 43 she very clearly defines the difference between the editorial and publicity roles at the publishing house. Why do you think she can see these roles and personalities in work so clearly, but she has a harder time with people outside of work?

5. Eve is treated without as much respect or understanding because she is female. Even her boss hires a young blond male to replace Don, the editorial assistant, rather than promoting Eve to fill that position. Her parents accept her publishing interests as a holding pattern while she finds a husband. At the end of the book when Franny calls Eve a “hiccup” and Henry looks at her as if she could be anyone, Eve realizes she really could have been anyone. Do you think the way she is treated as a female by these characters is specific to 1987 or do you think these issues are still present today?

6. Eve seems aware of her limitations and people’s perceptions about women but she does not verbally advocate for herself or women. Why do you think this is?

7. What other differences and similarities do you see between 1987 in the novel and today in terms of gender, career, relationships, and social values?

8. Eve’s relationship with Danny seems to be another example of her feeling less important and less seen. Do you think this has as much to do with his excelling in his mathematics career as it does with their gender? Do you think their parents would have handled his depression differently if it had been Eve instead of Danny?

9. The other book Alva gives Eve is Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. How does this book inform the current story with Henry and Eve? Why do you think Alva recommends this other than to show a parallel house-building experience?

10. Eve is suspicious of Jeremy from the beginning of the book until after the party. She even disregards his advice about taking the job with Henry. Why do you think she is so suspicious immediately of Jeremy when she is otherwise so non-judgmental of other characters?

11. Jeremy challenges Eve’s idea of being a writer and how to write. He sees it as hard work and not just dependent on the few moments when a story simply comes to you. He doesn’t believe it’s a gift the way that Eve and her mom describe it. Why do you think Eve created this idea of being a writer? Why does she seem surprised by Jeremy’s feelings on the topic?

12. In some ways Eve seems much younger than 25 years old. How do you think Alva and Malcolm and her parents are trying to help or hinder her growth?

13. The book is structured by month until after the party. Why do you think the author chose to set Part V one year later? What was your reaction to that shift?

Excerpt

1

Walking up the dirt driveway to the summer home of Henry Grey, I reminded myself that I was an invited guest.

Men in wrinkled linen shirts and baggy pants and women in loose, flowing skirts and dresses milled about on the ragged lawn in front of the old saltbox house. The wind off the ocean, a few hollows away, was gentle but steady, sending cocktail napkins floating like feathers.

Looking down at my flat espadrilles and wishing I had worn heels, I heard a woman say, “His ego’s as big as his canvas.” And from beyond her, a man’s booming voice: “What I should have said was ‘Edna St. Vincent Millay.’ What I said? ‘Edna St. Vincent Mulcahy!’” The speaker and his listeners roared with laughter. I took a few steps toward the crowd. A patrician man with a shock of white hair jostled his drink and said to his companion, “I knew Bob Gottlieb would usher in change, but I had hoped it would be more substantial than allowing the word fucking in The New Yorker.”

The guests were acting just as I had imagined they would. This was Truro’s summer elite, the writers, editors, poets, and artists who left their apartments in Manhattan and Boston around Memorial Day and stayed on Cape Cod into September. I knew of this circle from the occasional Talk of the Town piece and the gossip of my parents and their friends, who relished sharing a summer town with such famous intellectuals, even if they rarely crossed paths.

This crowd spent the summer in weathered, shingled Cape houses with screened porches, not tidy, new summer homes with open decks like the one my parents had purchased after years of renting. They played backgammon, drank gin, and gathered for endless round-robin tennis tournaments, not at Olivers’ in Wellfleet, where my parents and their friends paid by the hour, but on their own scruffy courts. With a few exceptions, they weren’t Jewish like us. As far as I knew, they didn’t even go to the beach.

I made my way through a group of people surrounding a wooden table, disappointed to discover it held nothing but a platter of deviled eggs and a small bowl of mixed nuts. Did the scant amount of food explain why everyone seemed so thin, their bodies as straight as their hair? I didn’t consider myself overweight, just a little soft around the edges, but as I stood among these angular people in my floral Laura Ashley sundress with its fitted bodice, I felt shamefully curvy.

Self-conscious about standing alone, I approached an old farmhouse table where two men were shucking oysters in a way that suggested a friendly competition. They were both tanned and solid, but one was young, maybe just a few years older than I was, with shiny brown hair pulled into a ponytail; the other was older, with wavy dark hair. When the older man looked up, I saw it was Henry Grey. He looked kinder and more handsome than the forbidding photograph on the jacket of his collection of columns, My New Yorker.

I introduced myself to Henry. He blinked.

“From Hodder, Strike and Perch?” I said. “Malcolm Wing’s secretary?”

Henry put down his shucking knife and threw his hands up in the air. “My God, Eve Rosen, you exist! The only actual human being employed by Hodder, Strike!”

Henry’s boisterous welcome set me at ease. The younger oyster shucker reached out his hand, still in a thick canvas glove.

“Happy to know you exist,” he said, with an easy, open smile. “I’m Franny, Henry’s indentured servant and son.”

I took his damp glove. Bits of oyster shell dug into my fingers as he clasped my hand. His eyes were an arresting green.

“Happy to know you exist too,” I said.

The sun had begun to slide down in the sky and was casting a honeyed light on everything. The tips of the long, wispy grass behind Franny appeared lit up.

It had never occurred to me that Henry might have a son, as our correspondence had been strictly business. His letters, which arrived by mail even when Henry was home in Manhattan, were composed on a manual typewriter, on crisp little pieces of ecru stationery with the initials HCG engraved in black ink. He wrote only a few lines, usually about something mundane like missing royalty statements, but always with great wit and biting sarcasm about Malcolm’s lack of attention. It was exciting to exchange letters with a New Yorker writer, even one who received so little respect around our office, due in part to his endless memoirs, which had been contracted by an editor who had retired long ago and were yet to be published. I spent considerable time crafting notes back to Henry, trying to be helpful while also sounding effortlessly funny and smart. Our correspondence was the highlight of my job.

Henry held out an oyster. “For you, the sole employee of Hodder, Strike and Perch deserving of a mollusk so fresh.”

I took the oyster and brought the shell to my mouth, conscious of both Franny and Henry watching as I slurped it down as delicately as I could manage.

“Briny and sweet?” Henry asked.

I nodded and wiped my mouth. I was struck by the men’s resemblance.

“Looking at the two of you is like flipping from Henry Past to Franny Future. You must get that all the time.”

“And looking at you is like downing a shot from the fountain of youth,” Henry said. “Another oyster?”

“OK, Henry, simmer down,” Franny said.

“Do you always call him Henry?” I asked, taking the second oyster.

“When it’s called for.”

Henry pushed his knife into the seam of a fresh oyster and opened it easily. He tossed the empty half in a bucket and, holding the filled shell in a gloved hand, flicked a few flakes from the flesh inside before setting it on a platter of ice at the end of the table. Looking at me, he spoke to Franny. “My boy, this young lady is a marvel of efficiency. And not at all what I expected. When I learned of her connection to Truro and invited her to join us, I was prepared to meet a skinny spinster in a cardigan sweater.”

Franny looked my way, shaking his head, and pointed his shucking knife toward his father. “He is such a relic.”

I stepped to the side of the table so other guests could get oysters but stayed close enough to continue the conversation. Bantering with Henry in person was more challenging than on paper, but I was determined to keep up. And it was easier than talking to Franny, whose good looks unnerved me.

“Is efficiency generally unattractive?” I asked Henry.

Still grinning, he nodded. “I have found it to be so.”

Franny took off his shucking gloves and tossed them on the table.

“OK, it’s time for a break,” he said, with a dazzling smile. “C’mon, Eve, I’ll show you around.”

Henry looked at Franny and then back at me. “Yes, of course, by all means, join our young brethren. But, Eve, really—if you ever need a job, I’m on the lookout for an efficient research assistant for the summer.”

I laughed. He couldn’t be serious. “It would be a tough commute from New York, but I’ll keep it in mind.”

I followed Franny up the hill toward the house. Looking back, I saw Henry watching us. I gave a little wave. Henry tapped his oyster knife to his forehead in a quick salute.

Copyright © 2019 by Karen Dukess