‘The Last Book Party’ review: Karen Dukess’ debut a light slice of summer nostalgia

"The Last Book Party," by Karen Dukess.
"The Last Book Party," by Karen Dukess. Photo Credit: Getty Images for Coachella/Kevin Winter

If you’re looking for a summer read to help escape the heat, our toxic politics and the endless parsing of everything on social media, you could do a lot worse than Karen Dukess’ debut novel, “The Last Book Party.” A lightweight love story with some lessons learned and a glimpse of the artist as a young woman, it’s ideal for a trip to the beach or a weekend getaway.

What starts off as a book about a summertime fling morphs into a  sory of a summertime affair. Eve Rosen lands a job as a lowly editorial secretary with a New York City publishing house after graduation. Her parents want her to be more practical — or more married off; Eve wants to immerse herself in artists and authors, and possibly be a writer herself. After getting passed over for a promotion, she quits and takes a summer job on Cape Cod as a research assistant to Henry Grey, a past-his-prime writer for the New Yorker.

The novel is genuine, not pretending to be anything other than the slightly nostalgic coming-of-age story about another time, both in publishing and in youth, that it is. Given the fact that Dukess worked for Little, Brown and Company, there is a fair bit of commentary on the NYC publishing industry that I imagine is rather trenchant historically. And since it all takes place in 1987, with a coda a year later, Dukess sticks to that era, refusing to parse Eve’s situation through a 2019 lens.

The dialogue can be a bit clunky and a side story about Eve’s brother doesn’t do much, but Dukess moves her main story along. You probably know where it is headed, but the lovingly created mood, particularly in Truro and its surroundings, makes it easy to keep turning the pages.