Book Talk: The Party Upstairs: A Novel by Lee Conell
Lee Conell has a keen eye for the grand delusions and small daily hypocrisies of a ‘classless’ America . . . brisk, canny fun—an upstairs-downstairs for the modern age.”
About the Book
An electrifying debut novel that unfolds in the course of a single day inside one genteel New York City apartment building, as tensions between the building's super and his grown-up daughter spark a crisis that will, by day's end, change everything.
Ruby has a strange relationship to privilege. She grew up the super's daughter in the basement of an Upper West Side co-op that gets more gentrified with each passing year. Though not economically privileged herself, her close childhood friendship with Caroline, the daughter of affluent tenants, and the mere fact of living in such a wealthy neighborhood, close to her beloved Natural History Museum, brought her certain advantages, even expectations.
Naturally Ruby followed her dreams and took out loans to attend a prestigious small liberal arts college and explore her interest in art. But now, out of school for a while, she is no closer to her dream job, or anything resembling it, and she's been forced by circumstances to do the last thing she wanted to do: move back in with her parents, back into the basement. And Caroline is throwing one of her parties tonight, in her father's glorious penthouse apartment, a party Ruby looks forward to and dreads in equal measure.
With a thriller's narrative control, The Party Upstairs distills worlds of wisdom about families, great expectations, and the hidden violence of class into the gripping, darkly witty story of a single fateful day inside the Manhattan co-op Ruby calls home. Told from the alternating points of view of Ruby and her father, the novel builds from the spark of an early morning argument between them to the ultimate conflagration to which it leads by day's end. By the time the ashes have cooled, the façade that masks the building's power structure will have burned away, and no party will be left unscathed.
Reviews and What Readers Say
“ The Party Upstairs is a dazzling and dioramic novel--Lee Conell situates so much intricate life and energy inside of one day, one building. I'll be recommending this smart, funny, suspenseful, timely, and beautifully constructed book to friends and strangers."
—Chris Bachelder, author of The Throwback Special
“ The Party Upstairs is thrilling—fiercely intelligent, meticulously crafted, and darkly, painfully funny. At every turn, on every page, Lee Conell offers rare insight and rewards her lucky readers’ attention. This is a first-rate writer, unafraid and illuminating and vitally necessary."
—Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This
“ I savored every word of this funny, wise, and cool book. Ruby's post-college return to her parents' apartment in the basement of a building near the Museum of Natural History is hardly triumphal, yet on one March day and night she and her father—the building's super—manage to do and undo their best-laid plans and beliefs about who they are to each other and in the world. Lee Conell is profound, wise, and witty, and in The Party Upstairs has offered us all a manual for how to care for the spaces we inhabit and the people and events that upset our equilibrium in ways both good and bad—including ourselves. This novel will take its well-earned place among the enduring books about young women. It is serious-minded and relevant in the hardest times, and also offers the pleasures of a great party."
—Alice Elliott Dark
“ Conell creates a microcosm of life on the s*** side of the wealth gap in New York City, fills it with absurd, infuriating, and endearing characters, and hilariously skewers privilege that can’t (or won’t) recognize privilege.” —Buzzfeed
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Lee Conell is the author of the story collection Subcortical, which was awarded The Story Prize's Spotlight Award. Her short fiction has received the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren Award and appears in the Oxford American, Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of creative writing fellowships from the Japan-United States Friendship Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the Sewanee Writers' Conference.