Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Life of the Party by Tea Hacic-Vlahovic. (CLASH Books)
While I was reading Life of the Party by Tea Hacic-Vlahovic, I thought about Sex and the City. The reason is because of Carrie’s on-going relationship with the elusive Mr. Big. The thing about Carrie and Big is we don’t want them to end up together. He’s not really that great of a guy and he tends to make Carrie miserable. And we’ve all seen her with Aiden (and we’ve seen what kind of a person Aiden is—and yes, he’s not perfect either, but a definite step up). Big is the subversive choice, which brings an inherent magnetism to the desire, sure, but we can clearly see he’s not the right guy for her—even if the show tries its damndest to make it so.
The relationship in Life of the Party reminded me of Carrie and Mr. Big. Granted, this novel is far rawer and more intriguing than Sex and the City (IMO—if you like the show, then like it; don’t let my dumbass try to sway you away from it) and ultimately packs a bigger emotional punch in the end. The man Mia is in love with doesn’t deserve her affections. She pines after him even through he’s abusive and an all-around bummer. As I read, I thought I had it figured out: the book is missing Mia’s Aiden. But then it dawned on me that I was wrong. Why is Life of the Party so much more compelling than Sex and the City? Because Mia doesn’t have an Aiden. There doesn’t need to be an Aiden, or a Mr. Big, or a Berger! I know, my mind’s blown too! Anyway, that’s enough TV talk, let’s dig into this novel.
Life of the Party follows Mia, an expat living in Milan while she tries to break into the fashion industry. She’s enrolled in school there but tends to skip class in favor of a job that works her too hard, or in an array of parties. She’s constantly thinking about her boyfriend—who is also married—even when she’s sleeping with any model who makes the moves on her. Life of the Party is a drug-fueled sex fest moving from one set piece to the next. It’s as intoxicating as the best party you’ve ever been to and strikes the same nerve as the worst party you went to and spent most of the night crying in the bathroom.
Hacic-Vlahovic has written one hell of a ride. It harkens back to a time when I read transgressive lit for the first time and thought, People can write about stuff like this?
For the most part, this is a book about a young woman yearning to carve out a place in the world, and her way of doing that is to become a staple in the party scene. We follow her meticulous planning and execution of living this life, but every once in a while we get these brief moments of melancholic clarity where she seemingly asks herself, “Is this what I want? Is this all worth it?” These are the moments that are binding the story into something deeper and more complete. Mia is more self-aware than it she seems on the surface and while a lot of the time she’s putting value into other people, she is subtly working on herself and dictating what a fulfilling life would be on her own terms.
Hacic-Vlahovic has written one hell of a ride. It harkens back to a time when I read transgressive lit for the first time and thought, People can write about stuff like this? It’s raw and honest and real. There were moments when I was afraid it wasn’t leading up to anything or was maybe too self-indulgent, but then a subtle moment or shift would be slipped in and I’d realize we’re in Mia’s head. The style and focus is a direct result of being in her point of view. These reminders shot me back to the first time I read American Psycho and was enamored with the detail and care every chapter had. Whether it was about Huey Lewis and the News or Patrick Bateman brutally murdering someone, the tone and pacing were steady and consistent.
Life of the Party is being shown through one perspective and we feel the story as Mia feels it. I can’t say I loved the way she views the world, but I sure as shit loved how much Hacic-Vlahovic was able to get me to experience her life on her terms.