Birthday. Booze. Boys. Tragedy. Revenge. Mid-life Crises. Comeuppance. Robyn Harding’s The Party exposes when what *looks* perfect is terribly, terribly flawed.
The Party opens on the day of Hannah Sanders’ 16th birthday, diving right into establishing the family dynamic. Dad Jeff is a Silicon Valley workaholic who drives a Tesla (of course), Mom Kim fills her days with Pilates classes and a part-time copywriting gig, along with taking care of the children. Hannah’s always been a good kid, but she’s actually dying to move up in the cool girl pecking order. Soccer playing Aidan rounds out the family. All of this domestic perfection lives in a 3,000 square foot home in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood.
I totally bought into the premise. Hannah’s sweet 16 sleepover, complete with booze, drugs and boys snuck in through a basement window, goes horribly wrong while her parents are asleep upstairs. The aftermath has major repercussions for both Hannah, her friends, and her parents, exposing just how thin the veneer is on their lives. Regardless, it’s hard to empathize with anyone in this book, except for Hannah’s friend Ronni.
The apples don’t fall far from the trees. The Party differentiates itself from other similar stories by delving much further into the teens’ lives, which are as complicated and fraught as their parents’. They’re dealing with similar issues — social strata, power, loyalty — but on a different scale. Some of the kids are borderline sociopaths, far more transparent in their cruelty, vengefulness and judgment than their parents. Two words: Fetty Wap. And just when you want to throw up your hands and say, get over yourselves, Jeff, Kim and Lisa, it’s the kids who come through with what’s really interesting in this book.
How could this possibly happen to people like us? The story moves along quickly, but at the same time, it’s almost as if Robyn Harding is lulling you into complacency right along with this family. Jeff and Kim’s marriage is worn and fraying after 18 years, and the holes are starting to show. As the reader, you get to be the sanctimonious jerk passing judgment from on high, because both Jeff and Kim seem to be in mid-life crisis mode, making incredibly poor decisions. They’re both piling up the secrets, though most of them aren’t that shocking or salacious (well, except one). I typically love a book where I hate almost all of the characters, but by halfway through, I wrote myself a note: “All of the whiny entitlement, little of the intrigue” I was hoping for. What really happened at that party?!
Why stick with it? The book earns it stars with a major turning point. After a long stretch rolling through emotional traffic, Harding revs the engine and guns it into a confrontation. Then, the pedal goes to the floor. Though her parents have been taking up all the oxygen, Hannah finally emerges as the most interesting character in the book, and stays that way to the very end. I just wish we’d seen more hints of that Hannah earlier.
Ultimately, the Party is about flawed people obsessed with appearances, comeuppance and revenge, (absentee or not) raising their kids to follow in their footsteps. One last note, this is a family drama, not psychological thriller or suspense. There’s no murder mystery, so don’t go in expecting a repeat of Big Little Lies.
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