The Author Behind the Definitive “Hot Girl Summer” Novel

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Marlowe Granados
Marlowe GranadosPhotography by May Truong

Marlowe Granados speaks on her debut novel Happy Hour, a tale of the sticky, sweet heat of summer in New York City and girls living their best, champagne-soaked lives

“People keep saying it’s the hot girl summer book,” says Marlowe Granados of her debut novel Happy Hour, a tale of the sticky, sweet heat of summer in New York City and girls living their best, champagne-soaked lives. Best friends Isa, the story’s diarist narrator, and Gala arrive in the city for a season of scraping by; they sublet a room cheaply, wrangle dinners paid for by other people, and sell vintage clothes at market stalls to fund their nights out. For the author, these are girls coming from a lineage of glamorous, rootless women – the socialites of the 1930s and 40s, screwball comedy stars, and Jean Rhys heroines.

An advice columnist for The Baffler, as well as a podcaster and filmmaker, Granados is attuned to the complexities of social interactions and personal dilemmas. Her insight into the transactional, transient nature of being a young woman in the city and, no less importantly, of party girl life, is joyously sultry, a celebration of decadent abandon in the face of distrustful men, precarious finances and unknown career paths. As close to the edge as Isa and Gala may get, Granados always pulls them back to safety.

Caitlin Quinlan: What interests you most about party girls?

Marlowe Granados: For me, the novel really encapsulates a period of my youth where I lived this lifestyle for a long time. I started going out when I was about 15, so by the time I was 21 I felt so old already. I wasn’t seeing this kind of world depicted anywhere, and it was so clear to me that it existed because everyone that I knew lived it. I worked a lot of jobs where it was very transient, like hostess jobs where you meet all these other girls and maybe you only work there for three months but you’re just standing there and chatting all the time. All the women in my life were so fun but also bad things happened to them, and so eventually they would get over it in a way that I thought was really interesting. They would end up laughing about it afterwards, and it felt very much that they were unburdened and it all just rolled off their backs.

Then to place the novel in a historical way, it was really important for me to also feel it was coming from a lineage of these kinds of characters and that’s why I feel like it is set apart from maybe other contemporary fiction, just because I focused so much on the voice of Isa and made sure it was very distinct. It’s also just fun to be in that world, and to write about it was such an interesting experience. It made me feel like reliving some of those periods of my life, that maybe some people didn’t think were important or worth anything. So I thought that it was also important to also be able to have something that’s polite and humorous, and that can still carry weight in a way.

CQ: That idea of celebrating the parts of life for young women that people don’t take seriously or that maybe you feel embarrassed about really resonated with me.

MG: I get mad when girls feel the need to apologise or feel very ashamed of how they were acting one night. The next morning they feel so much regret, and honestly I want people to be able to read this and be like, OK, it’s fine, I can just laugh it off and it’s not a big deal. I think that also when you’re in your early twenties you care so much about what other people think and I feel like that’s so wasted on your youth, because you have all these opportunities to be forgiven for this. You know no one’s gonna judge you very harshly. I feel like young women should be able to do what they want to do and chase their desires and pursue pleasure in ways that don’t feel like there’s a shadow of doubt or some scary consequence. And I think that’s part of this really feminine joy and humour. Now that I’m older, I’m 29 now and I finished this book when I was 25, and I meet younger women all the time and I’m always like don’t say sorry, it doesn’t matter, literally this is not a big deal! It’s just a habit that they fall into and I always just want to shake them out of it. I hope that the novel feels like it’s written by a friend. I base a lot of my writing on my social life and talking to my friends. I texted my real friend Gala saying I feel like we’re doing our younger selves justice,  ​​which I think was always the best revenge for a lot of women. We all deal with the bad days, the little injustices that we go through, and then we get up, we get dressed, we go dancing. 

“We should be able to express moments of joy without feeling like it’s cringe or that we should be ashamed. This ‘cool factor’ to me is so outdated.” – Marlowe Granados

CQ: There is a moment in the novel where Isa says “I realise now, the older you get, the harder it is to be impressed because people make you feel ashamed of ever being impressed by anything at all.” It strikes me as another example of the ways a false sense of embarrassment is used to shame young women.

MG: People think women gushing over something is embarrassing and I really hate that idea. You know that feeling when you say something, and especially at that moment in the novel, when you say something and you’re just being innocent about it and someone slaps you on the wrist for it for no reason, sometimes those kinds of interactions do worse than an actual blowout because you’ve been put in your place in a way that wasn’t necessary. And I feel like it’s an ugly habit that people have. I’m glad that that resonated with you because it still resonates with me. I still don’t like when people do that to me or do that to my friends. We should be able to express moments of joy without feeling like it’s cringe or that we should be ashamed. This “cool factor” to me is so outdated.

CQ: There is such a clear sense of character and experience in the novel. How much of it is grounded in your real-life experiences?

MG: It’s kind of this funny balance. I always think it’s a bit like an inside joke if I put something in there that’s real from my own life. And so I do have a friend named Gala and I do have a friend named Nicholas. Isa also has my own lineage, she has a lot of things that are me in a way, but it’s hard to say where that line is drawn because it’s not a realist novel. It’s an elevated world that I think was an entirely new creation. So, in a way, you can have these things that are facts, but it’s so much funnier to me, it’s mischievous, to shift someone’s perspective. The whole point of the novel, too, is the fact that it’s this young woman’s way of creating a narrative and controlling that narrative where you know she’s tricking you. She’s never going to say if she did anything too bad. She’s leading this narrative and Gala is this foil to her, always poking holes in her life narrative.

At this point, I joke about it with my friends because with things that happen in the book, sometimes I’m like did that actually happen? To be honest, people always say that my thread to reality is quite thin anyway. I liked creating a world that felt very stylized in a way that I don’t think I was reading in other novels and I want that to be something that people take away from it – to think that this was a very immersive world. I always read the writing out loud afterwards to make sure there was a certain type of rhythm that Isa would say things in. It’s hypnotic in a way, so when you’re at the beginning it’s working its way into your brain and then you become so familiar with this world. 

CQ: How did the decision to write the novel as a diary help that further?

MG: I think that the actual action of writing in a diary is so weird, it’s a very bizarre habit to do. When I was younger I used to write diaries, but it was very much like “this is where I went and this is what I did”. And so I think that the added effort it takes for Isa to really be sitting down to write is also something about her and her way of being. Writing a diary also feels so old-fashioned. It’s just an interesting compulsion, to filter your memories almost immediately afterwards on paper as a way to document something and put something down as a physical marker of existence. I exist and this is important for me to create this document that’s physical. I also find that the diary form is a little bit difficult because there are gaps in it for some days, so you’re always kind of catching up, which I love.

Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados is published by Verso Fiction, and out on 7 September 2021.