The Party is a dark and compelling domestic drama. It’s the story of one family’s unravelling after an innocent birthday party goes wrong; a page-turner that will keep you both appalled and engrossed to the end.
On the face of it, Kim is a very lucky woman. She lives in a beautiful home in one of San Francisco’s affluent suburbs, with a highly successful husband and two well-adjusted teenage children. When we meet Kim, she’s preparing for her daughter Hannah’s sixteenth birthday party. It’s just a few friends sleeping over, some pizza and presents. Kim’s a good parent, so there will be no alcohol and boys, of course.
Or will there? Hannah’s a good girl too but she’s been trying to get in with the cool set at school and so, in addition to her old friends, she invites some new ones too and that sets things off on a disastrous course. Nothing goes according to plan and in a dreadful turn of events, there is a horrible accident that leaves one of the girls, Ronni, in hospital and potentially damaged for life.
Kim and Jeff are horrified by what happened and full of sympathy for Ronni and her single parent mum Lisa, who was once a friend of Kim’s, but they must examine if their own negligence contributed to the accident. Lisa certainly thinks so and she files a lawsuit against the well-off couple, seeking vast amounts of damages. Other parents at the school have their opinions on what happened that night and it seems like everyone is judging Kim and Jeff. Soon there are revelations from their pasts that they’d both much rather keep under wraps and the cracks in their outwardly good marriage start to show.
The Party is one of those stories that grips you from the start – while we can sometimes feel for Jeff and Kim as they navigate what would be every teenage parent’s worst nightmare, we also wish they’d behave differently. No one here is perfect – not Hannah’s parent’s, nor Ronni’s mother. Many of the children at school act in deplorable ways to and even Hannah, previously likeable, often falls short. How everyone reacts to the chain of events, the adults and the children, is flawed – and therefore all too real.
As we watch Kim and Jeff flail and fail through their awful predicament, we’re torn between sympathy and censure. There are moments of humour in The Party with Harding’s insightful depictions of modern life but much is shocking and this thought-provoking and wholly entertaining novel confronts modern issues of parenting, bullying, alcohol and drugs, marriage and infidelity. Ultimately there is some resolution as the families attempt to build their lives in the face of catastrophe.
Robyn Harding is the author of several books and has written and executive produced an independent film. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband and two children.