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The Last Book Party

Review

The Last Book Party

Already being touted as the “book of the summer,” THE LAST BOOK PARTY by debut author Karen Dukess is a page-turning, sumptuous read for anyone who appreciates the power of books, the draw of illicit love and the breezy setting of Cape Cod.

The year is 1987, and 25-year-old Eve Rosen is at a bit of an impasse. She enjoys her job as an editorial secretary at Hodder, Strike and Perch, a publisher in New York City, but longs to make the jump to writer, and finds that her low-level job is holding her back rather than inspiring her. In June, she manages to snag an invitation to a party held at the home of Henry Grey, a writer for The New Yorker who is also one of Hodder, Strike’s most groan-worthy authors; his endless memoirs were contracted by an editor long ago and have yet to be published. Still, Eve is excited to visit Henry’s home in Truro, a scenic Cape Cod town where her family has summered for years. Eve’s family is more conservative, so while they enjoy their cocktail parties with friends from back home, they have never crossed paths with Truro’s summer elite --- namely Henry, his poet wife Tillie, and their posse of intellectuals.

"At once a coming-of-age story and a summer romance, THE LAST BOOK PARTY is a lovely beach read for book lovers, romantics and anyone trying to find his or her own voice."

At the party, Eve meets Henry’s son, Franny, and they share a brief but sensual night together that seems full of possibilities to bored, ambitious Eve. Although her dreams of a summer fling with Franny are soon dashed (shockingly, the long-haired, privileged boy is not the type to stick to one place), she receives a pseudo-job offer from Henry for the summer. Upon returning to New York, she quickly becomes disillusioned with her low-level job, the ease with which she is overlooked, and the publisher’s most recent acquisition: a love story set in a leper colony. The author of the book, Jeremy Grand, is a young up-and-comer with a surprising connection to the Greys and Franny. Although he and Eve get off on the wrong foot, he manages to surprise her with his wit and wordplay, and the two strike up a casual friendship.

Dreaming of a more artistic life, Eve quits her publishing job to stay in Truro for the summer, helping Henry with his research projects and memoirs. Arriving there, she is positively vibrating with excitement at the prospect of spending a summer watching Henry and Tillie create while hopefully finding some inspiration of her own. As Eve becomes entrenched in the literary world of the Greys, she finds an intellectual partner in Henry and a cold, distant idol in Tillie. Her admiration of the two borders on obsession, and the inevitability of lines being crossed presents itself nearly instantly. With the couple’s most famous end-of-summer party --- the eponymous Book Party, where everyone dresses up as an obscure but recognizable book character --- approaching, Eve finds a sense of purpose and uncovers a series of uncomfortable truths about creativity, passion and her own ambitions.

THE LAST BOOK PARTY is a fun and easy read, but Dukess also unpacks a lot of weighty and intelligent themes over the course of Eve’s Cape Cod summer. As a girl who grew up completely enamored of books, Eve has been struggling since college to feed her love of literature. At Brown, she hated the intellectual conversations that ripped books apart critically and without respect to the authors; at Hodder, Strike, she feels overwhelmed by the slush pile, the endless supply of poorly written work, and the sense that she knows every book out there already. So why bother? Publishing professionals will immediately recognize themselves in Eve, but those who know nothing about the industry will love the behind-the-scenes look at the editorial and publicity processes. Dukess’ research is enlightening without being overbearing. In this way, the book feels a lot like the television show “Younger.”

Through it all, THE LAST BOOK PARTY is driven by Eve’s quiet reflections. Though she certainly blossoms during her summer with the Greys, she is still a quiet, bookish girl at heart, reminiscent of Anne of Green Gables or Matilda. Her awe at rubbing elbows with the Greys’ posse of artists and writers, and discovering new books in Henry’s office, the local library and her office’s storeroom, will endear her to any reader. Plus, Dukess peppers in plenty of glorious literary references throughout the book.

Bookish or not, Eve still makes mistakes, and her romantic entanglements had me covering my eyes as I flipped pages, hoping she would not make the missteps I expected her to make. The men in her life --- flighty Franny; tortured, witty Henry; and pretentious yet insecure Jeremy --- all play their own roles in her development, and each one stands on his own thanks to Dukess’ wonderful descriptions and backstories. At once a coming-of-age story and a summer romance, THE LAST BOOK PARTY is a lovely beach read for book lovers, romantics and anyone trying to find his or her own voice.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on July 12, 2019

The Last Book Party
by Karen Dukess

  • Publication Date: July 9, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 1250225477
  • ISBN-13: 9781250225474