I headed back to Houston (the scene of the second half of The Hopefuls by Jennifer Close) for The After Party by Anton Disclafani. This gave me a chance to get to know some new socialites: Cece Buchanan and Joan Fortier. Cece and Joan have been friends for years, in fact, Joan’s family took Cece in during high school when her parents died. And by ‘took her in’ I mean sent Cece and Joan to an elite East Coast Boarding school. Jump ahead from 1930 to 1957, and both women are back in Houston, Cece maintaining her proper and conservative life with a husband and three-year old son, and Joan continuing to enjoy a wild and somewhat self-destructive single lifestyle. While this is most definitely a story of the fancy lives of women of means, and the joys and pressures associated with their sorority like community, as well as a picture of a certain stereotype of 1950s life, Disclafani’s tale is really about friendship. It is also a character study of two women that most of us could find something in common with-they are just more purely their “type.”
Cece is a blender, conscious of not being noticeable; she plays everything safe as a rule follower and a worrier. Joan, on the other hand, lives and loves fully and freely, carefree and without fear of consequences, much to Cece’s concern. The novel goes back and forth between their younger school days in the 30s and the present which for them is 1957, and shows the way they need each other. She examines the intricacies, the complications, and the shifts in power in a time when women of wealth, particularly in Houston, were wives and mothers and followed strict social mores.
Disclafani takes her inspiration from her extended family, all of whom live just outside of Houston, Texas. She visited every summer, and experienced many of the places and occasions from her novel. She loves her characters and time period. She says:
“…Houston in the ’50s? It was a city where anything — and everything — went. Watered by oil, organized by the women and men who would have been laughed out of the social registers in most cities, unbound by zoning laws or a sense of modesty — you can’t make Houston up, literally. The details were spectacular.” (from an interview with Anton Disclafani in the Star Telegram)