In the three months or so her book has been out, Marlowe Granados’s friends have been sending her pictures of the volume in situ at their individual homes.
“You can see how they’ve all worn differently,” Granados says on a video chat, one eye on her cat causing mischief just off screen. “My one friend always reads it in the bath, so it’s covered in water stains. One of my other friends has quite a few roommates, and it’s been on their coffee table. It’s gotten so torn up that I’m like, ‘What did you guys do to this book? It looks like someone chewed on it.’”
Granados, who’s based in Toronto but has lived in London and New York, specializes in that sort of closely observed detail. It’s what makes her debut, Happy Hour, feel like both a time capsule of millennial life circa 2013 and a taste of what promises to be one of the most entertaining chroniclers of the particular social mores of a specific subset of Gen Y. It is a snapshot of the young people who flocked to New York chasing the dream of a city that they’d been fed by pop culture – Sex and the City glamour whirled up with the gritty artists’ world of Patti Smith’s Just Kids – and attempting to find a foothold with little to recommended them but “the fact that they’re charming, pretty and fun,” as Granados puts it. Not that this stops her endearing protagonists, Isa Epley and her best friend, Gala, from having a madcap ball in the last days of the pre-Instagram world.
“I wanted to create these two characters who lived their lives in a way where they weren’t punished, or had to learn ‘life lessons,’” says Granados, who started the book as a 22-year-old studying creative writing. “I wanted to have two girls be these adventurer characters, where they’re opening doors to all the rooms in a house, and experiencing each night as they explore New York.”
At the time she was writing, Granados was fascinated by the literary archetypes of the flapper, the wise-cracking dames of the 1920s and 30s, and the “adventuress,” who she describes as “an unscrupulous woman who rises through the ranks whatever way she can.” She wanted to see what it would look like to update those tropes for the modern day, while somehow reflecting her own experiences as a young woman in the early 2010s. (She turned 21 in 2013, the year the novel is set.)
“I actually wrote it thinking about my friends,” she says. “I wanted them to read something that showed them in a way that’s more authentic than those books that don’t show how funny and resilient young women are, and how they can sometimes have power in situations where it seems like they don’t.” Gala and Isa cadge meals and drinks – blithely using whomever is convenient for that purpose – launch a series of dubious business ventures and conduct their lives with a refreshing absence of existential crisis. Girls, the tortured millennial ur-text, this romp is not.
It took her three years to finish Happy Hour. “The actual process of writing is something I would never wish on someone,” Granados says. “I’m a really social person, so the solitary nature of this is so outside my personality. It’s not something I love to do. You have to sit down by yourself and crank this stuff out of yourself, and you almost black out. It’s a weird process.”
Happy Hour is the first title released by Flying Books, a Canadian publishing house launched in 2019. The story of how Granados ended up signed to it reads a lot like something that might have happened to one of her characters: She ran into Emily Keeler, one of Happy Hour’s editors, at a New Year’s Eve party. “She says I crashed it, but I didn’t. Anyway, I left a pair of gloves at her house that night, and the next day I tried to get them back” – which is when they met properly for the first time. “She must have been, like, who is this person?” Long story short, Granados, who figures “I must have made an impression,” mentioned she was a writer, and Keeler asked whether she had anything she could read. Things went from there.
“I feel like I’m more in control of the rollout of this book,” Granados says of her choice to go with a small press, despite interest from bigger houses. “To be honest, I didn’t want it to be marketed like other novels by young women writers, where it’s promoted as ‘coming of age etc., etc.,’ which misses some of the intricacies in the work. There’s a pursuit of life the girls have, where they’re not willing to be defined by work or labour or capital, and the way they take fun seriously. They’re so in charge of themselves and they’re self-assured in a way that it’s rare for young women to be portrayed.”
One of the most striking things about Happy Hour is the vividness of the first person narrator’s voice, who catalogues her escapades in diary form. She doesn’t quite liken it to a body-snatching, but Granados does remember feeling like Isa, a clear-eyed, unimpressible party girl, never left her head. “Something would happen, I would be like, ‘How would Isa respond to this?’ Or I’d hear a turn of phrase that would sound like her.”
Isa was such a constant presence in her mind that, when the writing was done, Granados felt “bereft.
“I imagine that’s how people might feel when they finish the book, which is why I always tell them not to read it too quickly.”
While she’s not planning a sequel, Granados sometimes muses about bringing back Isa and Gala in a short story, although she’s not rushing to do that soon either. “If anything, I had to teach myself not to write in Isa’s voice,” Granados says. “I almost had to detox from her.”
Why did Isa capture her imagination so much? “The joke my friends and I have about Isa is that she’s basically how I was in my early 20s after I’d had, like, three drinks.”
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