I turned the last page of Afterparty in a daze. It was dark outside; the sun had set while I was reading, and all the curtains were still open. The dogs realized I was interactive again and came over to beg for (more) dinner. With a start, I realized swim practice started in five minutes, and there was no way I was going to be on time. I had rushed the end of the book, knowing time was passing, but unwilling to stop reading. I gave the dogs an extra treat, grabbed my swim bag and keys, and headed to the car, unable to organize my thoughts enough to be sure I remembered everything, still only partly in the physical world.
It was that good.
I’ll admit it: I judged a book by it’s cover. I wasn’t excited to read Afterparty; I’ve been less than impressed with books revolving around drug culture (I’m talking to you, A Scanner Darkly and Less Than Zero). But a recent run at Harrison Squared encouraged me to trust Gregory. It was a leap well worth taking.
It begins with the story of a young woman that quickly segues into the story of another inmate at the mental hospital. Lyda is a brilliant scientist and one of the co-creators of a drug developed to treat schizophrenics. The issue is particularly dear to her as her mother suffered from schizophrenia. Lyda and her co-creators are celebrating its sale to a pharmaceutical company when they overdose on the drug and Lyda’s wife ends up dead. The rest of them are left with residual effects–the perception that a divine personality is appearing to each of them as a personal guide. It’s clear to Lyda that the drug is back on the street. She sets out to find the drug’s co-creators and stop its production.
Simultaneously a thriller and a meditation on personality, biology and the divine, Afterparty had me riveted. The balance between the two was perfect for me, lending meaning to the search, and giving philosophical musings concrete movement forward. What does it mean to have an angel on one’s shoulder guiding one’s actions?
“Behind him, Dr. G drifted along the perimeter of the room, taking in the mini-shrines. I got an impression of Aztec gods, clouds of cotton swabs, black-and-white photo collages. It was an Anti-Science Fair.”
Characterization is up to Gregory’s usual fine standard. Lyda, in particular, shines. Part of her personal arc involves trusting others with her history. She’s been pretty honest with the inmates of the ward about her crimes, but it is constructed setting, and she’ll be held more accountable in the real world.
“This is where Bobby lived. We’d spent three months together on the ward, and in that time I learned what he was most afraid of, and the kind of person he wanted to be, and how he felt about me. I understood, for lack of a better word, his heart. But I didn’t know what his job was now, if he had a job at all, or who his friends were, where his parents lived, or what he liked on his pizza. That was the nature of bubble relationships. Prison, army, hospital, reality show–they were all pocket universes with their own physics. Bobby and I were close friends who hardly knew each other.”
It is not a romantic story, but relationships are part of the equation and the solution, much like The Bourne Identity. I like that Gregory put a twist on the sexuality without making it a Major Issue. I admit, I harbored a soft spot for Dr. G–I appreciate a clever retort no matter who it is from.
‘When the mast is high, it’s any port in a storm.’
‘I don’t think he knows how metaphors work,’ Dr. G. said.”
The emotion of the story felt very real. The action pulled me along, and the near-futuristic setting was fun, and familiar enough to not need much world-building. I appreciated the evocative descriptions. Overall, I might have some small quibbles–I think the villains could have been treated with more sophistication–but anything that pulls me in that solidly and gives me book hangover deserves five stars.