In this debut novel set in the summer of 2013, travelers Isa and Gala scrape and hustle to get by in New York City while mingling with a rotating cast of artists, academics and bad-mannered grifters. As money gets sparse and circumstances grow precarious, the pair struggle to convert social capital into something more tangible.
Through her portrait of Isa and Gala and the crowd that swirls around them, Granados broadly satirizes the cultural class of model-artists, fuckboy bartenders, hip gallerists, and secretly wealthy layabouts of Brooklyn and Manhattan ... With finger-licking delight, she reveals the hollowness at the center of the matryoshka doll that is the city’s social networking apparatus. And in unknotting and taxonomizing the navigational rules of this labyrinthine apparatus...the author makes the classic novel of manners our cocaine contemporary, revising its narratives to insinuate that, in matters of social (if not economic and structural) power, there is, in large part, no there there ... Bracingly bridling at our expectations, it revels in an erotics of excess, while never losing its shrewd observational eye ... like Babitz, Granados understands that the power of an effective writer lies in her capacity to 'change the boundaries of heaven.' And like any seasoned party girl, Isa knows that half the pleasure of the party is in the retelling.
This kind of set-up could easily devolve into a ham-fisted cautionary tale; Happy Hour thankfully refuses lazy cliché. Instead we are simply allowed to revel in the wonderfully directionless ride of Isa and Gala’s good and occasionally bad times, soaking up the book’s carefree tone with each invitation accepted and cocktail consumed ... With so many conversations and so many characters flitting in and out, it can be hard to discern who or what actually matters—which of course is the point. A run-in with a group of writers, editors, and critics is one particularly hilarious diversion, serving more as a scathing takedown of dominant literary culture than a simple random night at a dingy bar ... On the surface, Happy Hour is a deliciously fun fever dream conjured in one of the world’s greatest cities. But it’s also a witty critique of our pervasive cult of ambition ... It might be easy to dislike [the protagonists] if we weren’t so charmed by their approach ... no one would be faulted for reading this wonderful debut as frothy entertainment. But there is so much more here than empty exploits and lavish decadence. There is a hint of darkness that lingers in the corners, a soft whisper that this kind of pleasure is not sustainable, so one should find every opportunity and enjoy it while it lasts ... Under Happy Hour’s glittering surface runs a witty tone of necessary critique, a fun hint of mockery, and the vital celebration of everyday joy
Confident, charismatic and alive to the pleasure of observation, the voice Granados conjures in Happy Hour is a testament to the power of charm on the page ... the voice that kept coming to mind as I read was Kay Thompson’s Eloise. While that figure has now been merchandised and rereleased into franchise oblivion, the original character was a small comic masterpiece: resourceful, unruly, at once worldly and innocent, with a certain loneliness flickering into view from time to time. Isa is a worthy heir to her anarchic spirit (an heir who prefers pupusas and halo-halo in Queens to gugelhopfen at the Palm Court).