First, a very heartfelt thank you to Riverhead Books for providing me with this book.
The After Party is the story of two women named Joan, one a very dominant personality and the other her “handmaiden.” The story unfolds in Houston during the 1950’s, amidst wealth, high-society and glamour. The two Joans begin school together and the teacher decides two Joans won’t work, so one is called by her middle name, Cece. Yes, Cece is the handmaiden to the Joan who is larger than life.
Unfortunately, it took me a month to get through this book. It started well, but the story moves slowly and meanders all over the place. Cece is forever at Joan’s beck and call, even straining her marriage to the breaking point. She lies to her husband, who starts to believe she is in love with Joan. Could it be? No, she’s just infatuated with her and acting like an obsessive teenage hanger-on who never grew up. She gets angry when Joan is around and treats her terribly, then moons over when she is gone. No spoiler, but there is one scene of debauchery where Joan has particularly messed up, and Cece doesn’t seem as concerned with that as she was about other antics that would make people talk. Joan was just a spoiled, rich, self-centered girl who grew into the same type of woman. She brought nothing to the relationship, which makes it hard to understand Cece’s choices, feelings and emotions.
That said, the writing style was good and the scenes between Cece and her mother were very well-written and moving.