Sir Walter Scott knew that a best setting for a historical was 60 years back, long ago enough to belong to another world, but still within living memory. In the case of The After Party, that living memory is mine. I lived in the very place & time the story is set – the River Oaks area of Houston, Texas in the 1950s. When the narrator Cici mentioned Troon Road I thought, OMG, we could have been neighbors. That’s only one block away; when my brother or I were out late & our mother, lying awake, heard the Morgan’s motor rev as we downshifted for the turn onto Chilton, she knew she could stop worrying and go to sleep. If the principal characters, Joan & Cici, had younger siblings, they might have been belonged to the same group of teenaged friends I belonged to that formed in the summer of 1957; over the following years we were to live our own private Secret History.
Like her characters, my family bought clothes @ Battelstein’s & Sakowitz’s (when I went to prep school in New England my clothes-snob roommate made fun of the labels; I labeled him “the littlest Brooks Brother”!) Just as soon as the Shamrock Hotel opened, my parents joined the Cork Club & I can well-remember that huge pool with that terribly high diving board (I only dared go off the board @ mid level), & went to deb parties there when I was an undergrad. Reading this book, I felt like a T-Rex visiting a natural history museum. For moments it almost felt like I was back in Texas then.
Anton DiSclafani’s The Yonahlosee Riding Camp for Girls is one of the best school stories that I have ever read. The After Party belongs to the next generation; Joan & Cici are living out as 20-somethings the kind of life Yonahlosee girls were being prepared for: “good” marriages (@ least in Cici’s case) to men who worked for oil companies (3 of my friends fathers were with Humble Oil), membership in the Junior League & the River Oaks Country Club. In real life girls like Joan & Cici did @ least try college: Texas – “The University” – pledging Pi Phis or Kappas & perhaps marrying a Kappa Alpha, or Hollins or Sweetbriar, majoring in playing bridge & dating boys from W&L or UVA majoring in alcoholism. Joan & Cici would have had more of a cultural life too – going to plays @ the Alley Theatre & hearing the Houston Symphony Orchestra, which was already trying to become respectable.
Actually, Houston CC was the snob club & not everybody was a nouveau riche parvenu like Glenn McCarthy. There was some “old money” (Galveston before the hurricane) like the Andersons & the Claytons. But I am utterly overwhelmed by how much research Anton DiSclafani must have put into this book. did she unearth a huge cache of ancient issues of the River Oaks Times? I even caught the bartender’s reference to the Fortiers’ locker @ the Cork Club – the Byzantine Texas liquor laws made club membership imperative if you wanted to entertain. I’m not sure the author quite got the liquor laws right either (there was also something called a “liquor pool” – quite appropo for these characters!) Of course then I was too young to drink – legally that is.
I got too caught up in the nostalgia & historical reconstructions to pay all that much attention to the plot or the characters. The narrator Cici is intended as Joan’s fides Achates living in the shadow of her glamorous but mysterious friend. Had I listened more carefully I should have figured out the story behind the disappearance of the teenaged Joan (something similar would happen with one of us). Neither of them quite reached the tragic level of Thea Atwell in Yonahlossee. (Which reminds me – the Fortiers certainly would have owed a ranch, with horses – maybe cattle – & nobody ever called “the Fat Stock Show” – pronounced as a cretic – “the Houston Fat”!) But my GR friends can do the criticizing. I loved this book for the memories. Next time I read a story set in one of my favorite historical periods such as England in the ‘40s, I’ll be aware of how close an author can get to reconstructing what it was really like to live in that time in the place. So close, but not quite. Thank you Anton DiSclafani for all your hard work. You got it almost perfect!