JULY 20th /
HAPPY HOUR (Verso, ‘21)—Marlowe GRANADOS’ debut—is a novel of youth well spent; a novel about getting by and looking great in a system that wants you to do neither. Isa Epley is all of twenty-one years old, and already wise enough to understand that the purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure. She arrives in New York City for a summer of adventure with her best friend, one newly blond Gala Novak. They have little money, but that’s hardly going to stop them from having a good time. In her diary, Isa describes a sweltering summer in the glittering city. By day, the girls sell clothes in a market stall, pinching pennies for their Bed-Stuy sublet and bodega lunches. By night, they weave from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side to the Hamptons among a rotating cast of celebrities, artists, Internet entrepreneurs, stuffy intellectuals, and bad-mannered grifters. Resources run ever tighter and the strain tests their friendship as they try to convert their social capital into something more lasting than precarious gigs as au pairs, nightclub hostesses, paid audience members, and aspiring foot fetish models. Through it all, Isa’s bold, beguiling voice captures the precise thrill of cultivating a life of glamour and intrigue as she juggles paying her dues with skipping out on the bill.
See below for an excerpt from the novel, preceded by a brief introductory note from GRANADOS ...
On July 20th ...
I return to this passage the most. It still feels startling in the way it is so frank, and even though I probably wrote it when I was twenty-three, it still resonates with me as I approach thirty. So much of being a young woman is trying to articulate your place in the world. This passage marks a particular moment in the novel where Isa really outlines her desires—you can feel how much she yearns and hopes to avoid disappointment. She displays a combination of vulnerability and courage that I think we often lose as we get older, especially in romantic situations. The wrestling of power between them is so palpable. Noel is trying to preserve the upper-hand and evade accountability, while Isa demands space for her own desires and wants him to answer for how he treats her.
Gala helps dress Isa for her date and says, ‘Don’t let him make you feel bad for having enthusiasm’—this could be their encompassing philosophy. Isa and Gala are a force swimming against the tide, trying to preserve who they are. They are effusive, insatiable, and of course, enthusiastic. There is so much courage in living that way, though it can be exhausting. Earlier in the novel Isa tells a friend, ‘Men only punctuate a story.’ HAPPY HOUR is no romance, but the way these small circumstances help shape how Isa defines herself and how she sees pleasure and her own desire is a hard-earned kind of nourishment.
The empty, air-conditioned subway car moved over the Manhattan Bridge and into the city. The sky was purple, and the half-lit moon peeked out beneath a pink cloud. Whenever the car made an abrupt stop, I slid farther down the blue plastic seats. I imagined the mechanics of the train going over the bridge, all the gears clicking together to make the journey regular. A bridge is a most reliable structure. Weren’t bridges the first sign of modernity? Imagine having to take a boat.
I have always disappointed the people who ask me what I’m feeling. When someone asks, even if I’m feeling particularly anguished, I can’t seem to form the words. Maybe it comes from the fear of what may change. The atmosphere suddenly hardens and from one moment to the next the person feels dierently. I am really terried of that. To be free to communicate without consequence—is that ever a possibility? I want to say, ‘I don’t want you to have feelings about my feelings.’ I want to be heard without consequence because to be heard is such a novelty. If someone asks while looking me straight in the eye, I slither away. Even though we are looking at each other, I am still hiding. My dark eyes are good for that. The feelings on the tip of my tongue have no shape; they’re listless, always trying to sneak up in a moment of poignancy. Sometimes what I want to say is ‘I want you to be mine!’ Sometimes it is ‘I feel trapped!’ Sometimes it is ‘I resigned myself to a fate I thought I wanted, but now I don’t!’
But I have yearnings, that’s true. I make choices. I take action. That is simply how I navigate. But isn’t it who I am who goes out into the world? Do those few lonely moments when I return inward, away from noise and glamour, really count?
I know better than to waste too much space on men here; if only that could translate to real life. Against better judgement, I met with Noel the night before he left for the Catskills. I wore a bright red dress that bared the ridges of my spine. It hung on my shoulders by thin straps. I knew how persuasive I could be in red. My hair traps heat like a curtain and usually must be worn up. Even so, the bottom of my ponytail grazed the in-between of my shoulder blades. Wisps of baby hair framed my face even though I tried to settle them with water. Gala had strung a small gold brooch the shape of Saturn onto the left strap of my dress, saying, ‘Don’t let him make you feel bad for having enthusiasm.’ With my neck and back exposed and the thin material of the dress wrapping around my body as I walked through the heat, I felt rather dangerous. I could tell other people could feel it too because while I waited for the light to turn, a car full of boys slowed down next to me. They said, ‘Red Dress! Red Dress! Wanna come for a ride tonight? Yum! Yum!’ Honestly, I never understand how men think an invitation from a vehicle could be anything but menacing.
Noel and I sat side by side at a bar that left my elbows sticky. Our knees would knock together whenever we faced each other, so we turned our heads to speak. His light brown hair was swept back in a way that made me want to reach out and touch him. Gala did not think he was attractive with his strong nose and burly frame. He’s six foot six, which is almost unbelievably tall. It never occurred to me to think he was anything but handsome, but that was also because I wanted him.
He asked, ‘What’s the problem, Isa?’ And, tired of being coy all the time, I wanted to say, ‘I like when you are tender with me. I wish you were tender all the time.’ It was the feeling that his tenderness was selective, and I wanted to be the object of all of it. I ddled with my straw. The pulp of the lime trembled in the glass. I said, ‘You know,’ and he said, ‘No, I don’t.’ I have tried to stitch together tenderness from each person. Wring them of it. I want all the tenderness in the world. It’s a natural urge to want to be important in someone’s life. The soft underbelly of a coarse man. A preview is never enough because I am insatiable.
Noel said he was going to get our second drinks and that he was meeting some friends. My body visibly tensed. He looked me in the eye and asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ He wrapped his hand over my wrist, which looked small in his grip. I took a sharp, involuntary breath and pulled away. I started to laugh. ‘Why would I come here in the first place if we weren’t going back to your house?’ Noel looked taken aback. ‘I thought we could just hang out, keep it casual.’ What were these tactics, these small shifts to take control? They were bothersome. I didn’t like the feeling of being an early stopover on a long night. I told him, ‘It isn’t even anything, remember? Just enjoying each other’s company.’ He cleared his throat and rearranged himself on the bar stool.
‘I am enjoying your company.’ I took a delicate sip of my drink and tried to sound airy. ‘Oh, I mean taking pleasure. You take pleasure too seriously. All I want is to be treated right and to have pleasure. It doesn’t have to be so serious. Or for you does tenderness only come when there’s plenty at stake?’ I certainly rise to the occasion. He smiled and told me he admired the way I spoke; not many girls he knows speak like I do. He was trying to atter me, the snake!
He said, ‘Listen, I don’t mean to be cavalier with your time. If it seems that way, sorry.’ I tapped my nails on the countertop. They were longer than I usually keep them. They made my hands look slender and elegant, like my mother’s. I looked at Noel squarely and said, ‘Well, that’s what it seems like. Where’s your sense of urgency?’ He laughed and said, ‘Where’re you going?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, but I don’t want to linger for a second wondering whether you’ll come round to me.’ I have a sense of urgency in everything I do; being without one is un- attractive. My urgency is what gives me character. I am always rushing in and out of doors. To think everything is available to you each day is foolish. The bartender tried to look like he was minding his own business.
I smirk whenever men ask, ‘Are you trying to seduce me?’ And I say, ‘Do you really need to be seduced?’ When really I am thinking, ‘Haven’t I done enough?’ It could be so much easier. We could have such a nice time. Why does it have to be so fraught? Like he was resisting me in some way. Am I some kind of destroyer? Privately, men are concerned with self-preservation. I guess I, too, only feel desirable when I’m holding back, when I keep something for myself. Noel and I sat there, competing for who could bear the silence longer. The bartender poured us two shots of tequila to remedy our ‘long faces.’
Finally, Noel leaned back and set his arms in front of him. ‘If it’s gonna be this dicult, maybe it was a bad idea to start with.’ Men are so funny, so noble. But only when it’s easiest to be. It is interesting to note that many people believe getting someone to treat you with respect is an achievement. I know I’m in New York, but I simply cannot aspire to having the bar set so low. Noel said he found me aggressive in a way he didn’t initially expect from a girl like me. Aggressive is another word for frank, candid, forth- right. He said, ‘What do you want?’ All I could think of was peeling the skin of a Valencia orange in bed on a bright morning with someone pulling me into the covers because they want to spend two or three minutes nestling before starting their day. So I said, ‘Not much.’
I quickly concluded I was sick of being there. ‘I’m leaving. I like to leave first.’ He got up to walk me out, and I stopped him at the exit and said, ‘Get out of the doorway, I told you I need to leave first.’ I gave him a light push sideways, skipped out in front of him and onto the street. I looked back at him tossing my head, laughing. He stood there, leaning on the door frame, smirking like just another good-looking fool. Sometimes the most irritating situations stay with you because of the nothingness of them, how there was so much potential and yet nothing came of it. I couldn’t wait for a moment in the near future when I would think of him and say, ‘You’re like a stranger to me. I can’t even remember your face.’ People forget that I can be cruel too. I can devastate just about anyone.
Marlowe GRANADOS is a writer and filmmaker. Her advice column, DESIGNS FOR LIVING, appears in The Baffler. After spending time in New York and London, GRANADOS currently resides in Toronto. HAPPY HOUR is her debut novel.
The accompanying images are original artworks by GRANADOS;