by Marlowe Granados
Set during a sultry New York summer in 2013, Happy Hour is a euphoric, charismatic read which recalls the biting work of quintessential, celebrated 1970s It Girl artist and writer Eve Babitz. Isa Epley is a streetwise 21-year-old thrillseeker who leaves London to share a room in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant with her friend Gala Novak. The pair have only one goal and that is the pursuit of pleasure and hedonism but on a minimal budget. The piney scent of gin and the dusky taste of tequila are the order of the day, and they knock back Picklebacks - that's a shot of whiskey and a shot of pickle juice if you didn't know.
Isa and Gala are illegal immigrants so as they traverse Brooklyn and the Upper East Side, the pair get by on odd jobs, from hawking vintage clothes at the markets to joining in-studio TV audiences. They eke out a weekly diet of bodega hot dogs, sliced turkey, bread, lettuce and one tomato, but will happily spend their last dollars on a plate of happy hour oysters. They may be into glamour, but their outfit choices are based on whether the garment is suitable for jumping fences should the need arise, and their policy is to start drinking water when they can no longer read what's on their phones after too many drinks. The pair rub shoulders with a cast of New York ingenues with names like Lucian, Sage and Daisy, and party with a revolving cast of vapid internet entrepreneurs, artists and wealthy older men. Isa says, "I am passionate about glamour because it is illusive, hard to define, yet identifiable."
Written as a breezy monologue from Isa's perspective, she's the perfect narrator. While Gala has a more rough-and-tumble charm, Isa is quietly composed, constantly noticing and intently observing her surroundings. She can quickly spot a faker and has an instinct for authenticity. Frequenting dance clubs until 4am, Isa describes lush bars misted over in a light fog of smoke machines, and walls of artfully placed mirrors.
Writer Marlowe Granados has a background in not only fashion and photography but also film, which has clearly informed her heightened sense of lush visual storytelling. Granados is also a painter and a suite of vibrant works can be found on her website. Though the art on the cover of Happy Hour is stunning, I wonder why the author didn't use one of her own paintings, which are similar if not better.
The way Granados quietly underpins the narrative with race and class commentary is delicately handled. There's a strong sense of the girls branching out into a semblance of adulthood, and by going out every night, they are undertaking what they cheerfully refer to as "research". As Isa muses, "Hopefully with all this 'fieldwork' we will learn something we can really use." Happy Hour is a languid summer read with the effervescence of a refreshing spritzer.
Reviewed by Kiran Dass