book review: Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados

Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados 

Overview: Gala and Isa show up in New York City without a single plan. They do have a room they're subletting that they hardly have the funds to pay for, and Isa has a network throughout the city of people she's met on her travels and from her time living in London. The girls spend the summer trying to scrape by, making enough money under the table to pay rent and stay afloat in an unrelenting yet utterly glamorized city. Overall: 3.5

Characters: 3 The book is narrated from Isa's point of view with Gala as her coconspirator for most of the novel. It's hard to get under Isa's skin or inside her mind because, as we later find out, Isa has published the book we're reading straight from her diary. Even though this is meant to be a personal account, Isa holds herself at a distance from the reader and tries to give herself the appearance of someone intellectually superior and that she's this rouge who makes her way through the world with little affecting her. We see moments where this clearly isn't true, but this story is far from confessional. 

None of the other characters are particularly memorable. There is quite a large cast of people that Isa knows that come in and out of her life throughout the summer, but I would often forget who they were seeing names that looked familiar but be unable to trace them back to which character portrait they were tied to. Understanding anyone else in the novel isn't the point. They're just set decorations for Isa's story. Then there's Gala. Their friendship story unfolds with them appearing to be very close when they arrive together but eventually have increasing tension that threatens to break the bond. It's hard to tell what attributes are coming from Gala's personality and what's simply a projection from Isa. 

Plot: 4 This is true literary fiction "no plot, just vibes." This title is often compared to My Year of Rest and Relaxation, and I can promise you that there's much more plot here than in that book, but the comparison also makes sense. There's a true aimlessness held in both of these characters. While the protagonist of Moshfegh's book has immense privilege and rarely goes outside in her New York existence, Isa and Gala have little money, have to be much more enterprising, and love to go out. They mine through their unhappiness and aimlessness by trying out heaps of experiences, which naturally makes this a far more interesting book. I wish there was a bit more structure or a clearer sense of a goal to move towards because all of the events feel so disconnected and hard to explicitly care about in the moment. But if you want a portrait of what it was like to be young and spend all your time going out in New York in 2013, this should be riveting. 

Writing: 3 My biggest annoyance with the writing in this book is that it breaks the grammar convention of starting a new paragraph for each new speaker. Instead, the paragraphs are given in massive chunks, sometimes taking up entire pages. And it's hard to keep track of how the conversation is flowing and who is speaking when the tags are sporadic, and the exchange is all clumped together. It made it harder to get immersed in the book when you're having to puzzle through the mechanics. 

The language here emulates that of classics, and without the mentions of cell phones, this book could be set in any time. Sometimes, it's pleasing and has interesting notes, and sometimes it's a bit tedious. I wish the book allowed you to get closer to the characters or, at the very least, closer to Isa to give the novel an anchor that made the stakes feel important and worth reading. There are some interesting portraits and scenes painted here, but it's debatable if they succeed in stringing together to create a satisfying narrative arc. 

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