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High Society Advice From ‘The After Party’

In Anton DiSclafani’s followup to The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, champagne flows as freely as money in Houston’s “charmless swamp.” 

AfterPartyAfter setting her first novel at an equestrienne boarding school in 1930s North Carolina, Anton DiSclafani travels to 1950s Houston, Texas, for The After Party. Joan Fortier and Cece Buchanan are best friends and socialites enjoying their youth in the sun-drenched Bayou City. Cece eventually settles down with a husband and child, but the elusive Joan remains the epitome of Texas glamour. Completely devoted to her, Cece functions as both a chaperone and partner in crime, accompanying Joan to the over-the-top *Shamrock Hotel’s Cork Club most nights. But when Joan starts to drift beyond Cece’s reach the summer they are 25 years old, Cece risks everything to “save” Joan and uncover who her friend really is.

In The After Party, Cece plays by the rules of society and their exclusive *River Oaks neighborhood, dressing impeccably for any occasion, throwing seamless dinner parties and marrying a boring man who won’t give her any trouble. On the other hand, Joan breaks all the rules with her drinking, excessive partying, associations with men and spontaneous behavior. We pulled a few words of wisdom from the book below, but you can decide if you’d rather party like Joan or like Cece this summer.

Houston’s oil had washed its worries away. This was the place where a wealthy bachelor had bought himself a cheetah and let it live on his patio, swim in his pool; where a crazy widower flew in caviar and flavored vodka once a month for wild soirees where everyone had to speak in a Russian accent; where Silver Dollar Jim West had thrown silver coins from his chauffer-driven limo, then pulled over to watch the crowds’ mad scramble. The bathroom fixtures at the Petroleum Club were all plated in twenty-four-karat gold. There was a limited supply of gold in the world; it would not regenerate. And Houston had most of it, I was convinced.” – Cece Buchanan


Champagne should flow like a fountain. 

At least that’s what happens when Houston’s most famous socialite Joan Fortier shows up. “She made people happy. She was beautiful, certainly, but she was more. She was lit from the inside.” In the beginning, faithful friend Cece believes that all will be right with the world if “the champagne was crisp and cheerful, the men were handsome and strong, and the music buoyed our spirits.”

It’s OK to get silly but not sloppy.

Names mean something in 1950s Houston, and Cece and Joan are careful with their positions in society. They don’t do drugs, keep their painkillers at home and don’t follow strange men into bathrooms. At least that’s what Cece thinks, but sometimes it seems like Joan doesn’t want to hold her liquor.

Wear fine clothes. 

One thing Cece has over her glamorous friend Joan is her sense of fashion. “I wore a knee-length, pale blue taffeta skirt that moved with me as I walked, sprouting from my waist like a flower. It made me bolder, to wear fine clothes.” Joan can’t care less about putting together a coordinated outfit or drying her hair from the swimming pool, but Cece always makes sure her friend looks presentable.

It helps to be both beautiful and powerful.

“Joan was that person, I realized now. Beautiful and powerful. She would be like her mother, inherit her mother’s position, and her beauty would only amplify her power.” Joan and Cece are at the top of the world — at least in Houston — with their beauty, youth and money giving them access to anything their hearts desire, but is it enough?

Potential suitors should be able to mix a mean Manhattan, look great in a pair of swim trunks and keep quiet about politics in mixed company.

At least this is part of what attracts Cece to her husband Ray. They also both can’t imagine living anywhere but Houston, run in the same crowd and have money. It also helps that Joan thinks he’s a “doll” even if he is a bit boring sometimes. “No trouble with a boring man,” Joan tells Cece.

Always take the high dive.

The Shamrock Hotel pool has a high diving board a “good thirty feet above the water,” and that’s where the crowd finds Joan late one night. “Joan had executed beautiful dives from the high board, it was true, but she’d been in a bathing suit, and she hadn’t been drunk.” Does she pull it off? Of course she does, and there’s champagne all around!

*River Oaks is a real neighborhood in Houston; the Cork Club moved out of The Shamrock to downtown Houston in 1957, DiSclafani chose to keep it inside the hotel for the book.

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