cover image After the Party

After the Party

Lisa Jewell. Atria, $15 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-4516-0910-3

Jewell carves out a dreary universe of resentment, loneliness, and barely hidden rage for the couple she first introduced in Ralph's Party. After 11 years and two kids together (but no marriage), public relations agent Jem and artist Ralph discover they've become, not so surprisingly, different people, and are miserable together. The familiar is livened up with some engaging distractions for the needy pair. For Ralph, it's a trip to California to visit old pal Smith and his gorgeous girlfriend, Rosey, a Christian rocker. For Jem, there's secretive and somber Joel and his hot 25-year-old son, Lucas, both of whom she admires from afar and then closes in for a brush with intimacy while Ralph is busy locating his artistic mojo. While careening toward what could be certain splitsville, Jem and Ralph doggedly cling to the impossible dream of a conventional happy ending. Jewell manages a breezy traipse through some turgid terrain, thanks mostly to a solid cast who bring a freshness to a stale setup. (Aug.)