The After Party

Written by Anton DiSclafani
Review by Jessica Brockmole

Cece and Joan grew up amid Houston’s elite, an ordered world of debutante balls, country clubs, and Junior League meetings. Joan—beautiful, restless, and shocking—has always stood in the spotlight, while Cece waits in the shadows, ready to temper her best friend’s wildness, while, at the same time, breathlessly envying it. At 25, with a husband, child, and carefully cultivated image, Cece knows she should leave Joan to her own messes. She’s grown beyond the days as Joan’s confidante and sometime-chaperone. But Cece can’t help but be drawn into her orbit, still, even when Joan’s actions raise the stakes for both of them and when Joan’s secrets threaten their place in Houston society.

Between the sun and the steaks and the endless martinis, DiSclafani effortlessly creates 1950s Houston. It’s easy to say that the city, glittering and cool, is as much a character. The reader feels the turquoise pools and the ice cubes, smells the tanning oil and ubiquitous cigarettes, tastes each and every daiquiri.

The real characters are just as vibrant. Joan sprawls across the page, unthinkingly drawing the eye to her. She oozes confidence, but secrets simmer beneath the surface. But it’s Cece, with her quiet obsession and uncertain narration, who holds our attention as she struggles between unsnaring herself from Joan’s grasp and being quite content to stay snared forever. Neither woman is perfect. Both, at times, flirt at the edge of wrong decisions, and then grapple with how to define “wrong.”

Though the story is quiet and the mystery small-stakes, there’s something compulsively readable about The After Party. The writing is gorgeous, the details sumptuous, and the world-building flawless. Recommended.