I discovered The Last Book Party while browsing at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA, one of my favorite independent bookstores. I was drawn to the cover, but decided to buy it when I learned the story was set in Truro, MA, the tiny town on Cape Cod where my family vacations every summer.
The book is written by Karen Dukess. Dukess has an incredibly pedigreed resume. She is a graduate of Brown University and the Columbia School of Journalism. She has spent the last eight years as a speechwriter on gender equality at the United Nations Development Programme. This is her first novel.
The Last Book Party centers around Eve Rosen, a young woman navigating her way through the world of publishing. At 25 years old, she find herself in a thankless desk job. When the opportunity arises to work as the personal assistant for Henry Grey, an esteemed writer, Eve decides to roll the dice and shake things up. Henry is based in Truro for the summer, so Eve crashes at her parents house (also in Truro) to make herself available to her new boss.
Eve becomes entangled in complicated family dynamics. Henry is brilliant, but brooding. His wife, Tillie, once his muse, has become more of a platonic companion. His son, Franny, is wild and free, wishing to be far for the reaches of his parents' fame.
I don't want to give away too much, because you should absolutely read it, but let's just say, things get very messy. Everything comes to a head during a costume party, making the explosive fights all the more absurd.
For me, the most fun part of reading this book was hearing another person's take on Truro. The details are so similar to our family's experience. On page 10, Dukess writes:
"I had been vacationing in Truro since I was a child, and each summer was as predictable as the tides. On sunny days, we would got to Ballston Beach, where we would spread our blankets to the right of the entrance, never the left. If the ocean was stinky with mung, we would go to Corn Hill to swim in the bay, where, when the wind died, it was easy to skip a flat rock six times over the water's glassy surface. My parents would unfold beach chairs and read: my mother's multigenerational, from-the-shtetl-to-Scarsdale family sagas, my father the latest Book of the Month Club presidential biography or the stock tables. My brother, Danny, and I would dive for fiddler crabs or swim. The pattern adjusted, without really changing, as we got older. Instead of frolicking in the water, I would lose myself in novels while Danny tackled problems in the Mathematical Games columns in Scientific American. On the last night of our vacation, we would buy lobsters and boil them in a big black pot. When we returned home to Newton, we'd shake teh sand from our beach clothes and, like someone had flicked a switch, restart our old routine: work, school, dinner at six, my parents' praise for Danny's genius at math, and their gentile annoyance with my dreamy bookishness. This mold, set so long ago, endured."
If you've spent any time on the Outer Cape - Wellfleet, Truro, Provincetown - you will love this book's deep sense of place.
If you're interested in learning more about why Dukess set the story there and her own love affair with Truro, check out this interview in Entertainment Weekly. Dukess sits down with Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of Daisy Jones & The Six, to talk about Truro's role in the story.
Reading The Last Book Party made me want to seek out other stories set on Cape Cod. If there is one you'd recommend, please leave the title in the comments below!
*Image courtesy of Macmillian Publishers.