When I last spoke to Marlowe Granados, Toronto, like the rest of the Northeast, was wading through a thick haze. I imagine not much changed for those lucky enough to finesse their way into a boat, pool, or somewhere with central air, but for the rest of us, it was the type of unwavering heat that made you reevaluate your priorities. I bailed on work for a myriad of frivolous reasons: an estate sale, a midday hookup, a walk-in tattoo, and a frosted glass of vinho verde at the wine bar down the street. “If it makes you feel good and there’s a pinch of fear that while in public someone may throw a comment your way or think it’s too much, wear it. You never know if someone else may be emboldened to do the same.” That line has stuck with me ever since I read Happy Hour last year—I evoke it whenever I need an excuse to do no less than what I want. Protagonist Isa Epley makes many compelling cases for the audacious pursuit of pleasure. In the novel, she and her best friend Gala flit in and out of New York’s social scene, getting by on good graces and bodega lunches, scraping together just enough cash to make rent. Isa recounts the summer with the vigor you’d expect from an old friend fresh off a year abroad. Is that really what happened? Does it matter?
Like Isa, Marlowe draws strangers in with a knowing smile, brutally honest observations, and an enviable closet. She’s probably the only shopper at the corner store wearing vintage Pucci. Everything about her demands to be remembered, and with this stunning debut, that shouldn’t be a problem. Happy Hour is sharp and playful—part tipsy retelling, part advice column for anyone in the “not a girl, not yet a woman” phase of their lives. Isa and Gala may not have the upper hand, but they know how to play the cards they were dealt and, if it comes down to it, they know just how to charm the dealer.
Over the course of an afternoon, Marlowe and I talked about her craft, finding her way in the publishing world, and living luxuriously on a budget; here are the best parts.
Lithium Magazine: I read Happy Hour and checked out your short film The Leaving Party, and I find your ability to dramatize innocuous events in young women’s lives so smart and refreshing; it’s something I’ve never really come across in the literary space. What inspired you to tell this story as a diary? Were you consciously trying to fill a gap for people who haven’t been well served?
Marlowe Granados: I was thinking a lot about my own friendships with women, especially at that age, and how when we see contemporary depictions of these young women, it really misses the mark. It’s not even about whether it’s realistic to me, it’s mostly about whether it’s truthful. There is a very particular archetype of woman I’ve always lived around and been interested in. I wanted to create a voice for women who aren’t often taken seriously. That’s something I’ve always struggled with, and it’s left a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I want to be able to put respect on their names. At first, when we first tried selling it, people found the diary form off-putting, like it was distant. It was a device to lend the story to Isa entirely, letting her move the reader and convince the reader of things that are maybe embellished or untrue. I think that kind of urge is something a lot of young women might relate to—not necessarily writing a diary, but trying to take control of how they perceive their life.
Lithium: That’s so interesting because I find diaries to be such an intimate form of writing. I loved the fact that I couldn’t really trust what Isa was saying fully, but I liked her, so I chose to believe her recollection. When I was telling my friends about Happy Hour, I struggled to sum up what it was about. Like, “two friends are grifting in New York City”—that’s basically all I could say because it felt like the story moved in waves in a way that reminded me of my own summers, where it’s frantic, then stagnant and then frantic again. It really mimics the way my friends and I tell stories to each other. But you mentioned people thought the format was off-putting when shopping it around. What was the publishing process like?
Marlowe: I really struggle with the publishing world. It was interesting to me because I wanted these girls who were not taken seriously to be taken seriously, and what was happening to me was like a version of what was happening to them. Their kind of young womanhood was not enough for people to think it was marketable or sellable. Since we don’t have that much media about young women, people were like, “oh, it’s like Girls” [by Lena Dunham] and it’s like, no, it’s not. It’s hard because people don’t have a subtle gradient of this kind of subject matter where you can just carve out a little world of your own. This type of media has been misunderstood forever, and these types of women have been misunderstood, so it just really falls in line with the status quo of how we’ve dealt with young women forever. I was getting all the rejections combined in one email and I’d be bracing myself. At that point, I was really like, “oh okay, people are not really ready for this type of lightness or pleasure in a narrative about young women.” It was a really difficult time for me, just coming to terms with the fact that the whole purpose of the novel was that I didn’t want these girls to be punished; I wanted them to be able to make their own decisions and go through life in a way I feel is truthful to the way I live with my friends.
Now I’ve chosen to be with independent [publishing] houses, and that was important for me to ease my way back into this publishing situation because I wanted more control over how we would be putting [the novel] out in the world. Sometimes you have to wait for people to come around to you. The best thing about the book is that it’s reaching the young women I want to read it. I want women to be able to read this, see themselves and their friends, and live through these girls in a way that hasn’t been as accessible to them in other contemporary novels.
Lithium: Your grasp of dialogue is so strong and, to steal your word, truthful. Could you share some dialogue writing tips you lean on when you’re trying to come up with memorable musings or one-liners?
Marlowe: A lot of my references and influences are historical; I love old Hollywood. When you watch those films, the way they speak is so fast and quick-witted, and it has this kind of dexterity I think is not really shown anymore. I not only like talking, but I also listen very closely to how people talk, like the rhythm of a friend ranting because they’ve been on a bad date or something. I know there’s the stereotype of writers being introverted and shy, but it’s so important to be in the mix because if you’re constantly observing, you project how people speak and might not have a grasp on the actual practice of how people interact. It’s so funny because when I talk about the book, I always say “we published it” because I feel like it’s such a collective thing. Don’t be afraid to go out into the world and really participate. Also, always read your work out loud—not the voice you’d use when you’re at a reading because when you read it like that everything sounds important.
Lithium: The novel touches on themes of grief, employment, and housing precarity in a way that felt more cynical than reckless or pessimistic. Do you think people should pick this book up for a dose of reality or fantasy?
Marlowe: The girls live in a certain type of reality, but they make it into this fantasy life. They’re industrious in that way, and they don’t settle into the conditions they’re handed. [A friend of a friend] said it was like an anti-capitalist fairy tale, which I thought was so funny. I think about it in terms of the way my friends and I live—when you have a certain material reality but you dream of more. It’s really important to be able to find ways to express that. That’s the art of living and the whole idea of pursuing pleasure at all costs. It’s a very brave way to live.
Lithium: That reminds me of your Globe and Mail opinion piece about glamour. Where do you think the misconception that glamour, beauty, and pleasure are frivolous luxuries comes from? And how do you think people who’ve systemically been denied access reclaim and incorporate luxury into their lives?
Marlowe: Glamour and luxury have always been feminine traits or pursuits, and I think anything associated with femininity is often degraded. So that’s probably where it all starts. A lot of my life before the pandemic was hopping around bars, traveling, and living a very particular lifestyle. Then, when I was stuck at home, l couldn’t do any of those things anymore, and I had to change my whole relationship with how I live day-to-day. I think it has so much to do with being able to look at the world around you and pick things you want to surround yourself with. Like, I paint but not because I want to be a painter. I just like certain colors or portraits of my friends; it’s like building a world in my little apartment. During the romantic period, they just went outside and really took in the air and that, for them, was art. A life outside of your work—I think the biggest thing is to build and strengthen that. It’s so important to have an interior life away from hapless structures. To be able to see beauty in the world around you.
Lithium: The “I don’t dream of labor” mentality has really been catching on the past couple of years. I feel like people deny themselves pleasure and luxury because the pull of capitalism is so strong—it’s as if you need a safety net before you can even start to think about pleasure.
Marlowe: The resurgence of that mentality is so exciting. I think everyone should have their own idea of luxury; we should allow everyone to have pleasure in their lives. And that’s what I would assume is the goal of the end of capitalism, to let people have the kinds of pleasure life has to offer without sacrificing food or shelter. Only taking art seriously when we can feel or witness some sort of trauma—I don’t think that’s the solution. Find joy in your everyday. It’s such an obvious human necessity.
Lithium: Now that we’re living in a post-lockdown world, can you give us some practical party girl tips for making the most of our freedom?
Marlowe: I take milk thistle before bed. If I’ve got it, if I can remember, I’ll take it. It’s a supplement that helps you process the toxins in your liver; it always helps with hangovers. I really hate the feeling as I get older, it gets worse and worse.
Also, try to wear something you wouldn’t immediately want to wear—something a little bit wilder than you would usually want. I have so many things I haven’t worn yet because I’m waiting for the night to go out in it. But you just have to wear it, because otherwise you never will.
Happy Hour is now available across Canada, the U.S., and the UK wherever books are sold. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
By Tamara Jones