7 Novels About Parties Gone Wrong

Andrea Bartz, author of “The Lost Night,” on the best doomed fêtes in fiction

Whether they kick off the narrative, shake things up midway through, or set the stage for a final showdown, parties are an author’s best friend. In fiction (as in real life), shindigs can corral people with conflicting agendas into a crucible of drama and swelling emotion. There’s a second, simpler reason characters often find themselves at celebrations: Parties are fun. Even the most Netflix-addicted homebody will admit that reading about a glitzy gala or tense dinner party or feral-feeling rave is more fun than those scenes where characters, you know, sit at desks or on couches, watching the hours tick by.

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In the case of The Lost Night, my debut thriller, the fun turns to horror not at a single party but over an evening of general debauchery. In 2009, my narrator, Lindsay, was part of a crew living and partying inside Brooklyn’s Calhoun Lofts, a hulking converted warehouse where every weekend, residents and their friends wandered the floors in search of the source of a pounding bass line.

On the titular Lost Night, Lindsay and her friends were at a concert at a stranger’s apartment, dancing through a storm of smoke machine fog and electric guitars. But not her best friend, Edie; from what they gathered in the aftermath, Edie was alone in her apartment, crafting a suicide note and pulling out her roommate’s antique pistol. Ten years later, Lindsay — now a successful 30-something fact-checker — has moved on and forgiven herself for being drunk at a show while Edie killed herself. Then Lindsay runs into a friend from that era, who drops a bombshell: “No, Lindsay, you weren’t at the concert that night.” Lindsay’s forced to untangle a night she can’t remember, but the partygoers in these novels made it through fêtes they won’t soon forget.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Elvises and Audrey Hepburns: It’s the kind of ludicrous party theme (for Pirriwee Public’s Trivia Night, no less) that only a bougie kindergarten would dream up. Moriarty is a master of pointing out the horror and absurdity marbling everyday life in the suburbs, and she knots together all her narrators’ hidden fears in this dramatic showdown.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Katsumi Hosokawa never even wanted to celebrate his birthday in a small Latin American country. Wooed by the promise of a performance by opera diva Roxanne Coss, the Japanese businessman treks across the world for a birthday dinner, and in one of the most sweeping and cinematic scenes in modern literature, a band of terrorists crashes the lavish celebration…but the worst is yet to come.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

A 40th birthday party with your siblings — sounds sweet, right? Maybe not, when it falls in the middle of major familial drama stirred up by a deadbeat brother who’s messed with the family trust fund — the proverbial “nest” everyone’s counting on to solve all their problems. What’s supposed to be a fun birthday dinner quickly devolves as secrets and lies hit the fan.

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Moments of drunkenness, bacchanal, and general debauchery stud this sprawling tome. There’s an important lesson in all the collegiate revelry: If you and your friends can’t binge drink without someone winding up dead, perhaps it’s time to find a new clique.

The Party by Robyn Harding

Shunning the over-the-top 16th birthday soirees splattered across MTV, the wealthy San Francisco family in this thriller opt for a low-drama celebration: To mark their daughter’s sweet sixteenth, they’ll have a few girls over for cake and a sleepover. Hot tip: Don’t tempt fate by declaring a party low-key…

The Evite Made it Sound Like a Normal Party

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Near the beginning of Thomas’s stunning debut, Starr Carter heads to a party where she links up with her childhood friend. The kegger takes a turn when cops bust the underage party, and Starr’s bud offers her a ride home, which is when things go from bad to life-changingly horrific.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

A dinner party with the cool-seeming next-door neighbors: normal. Leaving your baby girl in her crib and checking on her via the baby monitor: pretty normal, too. In fact, the grown-up get-together is going pretty well until said baby disappears. The brilliance of Lapena’s debut is how it plays on the paranoia we all suppress as we go about our lives, convincing ourselves our friends are who they claim to be, our loved ones want the best for us, and no one would ever hurt our children.

About the Author

Andrea Bartz is a journalist and the author of The Lost Night. Previously, she was a senior editor at Glamour, Fit Pregnancy, Psychology Today, and other magazines. Her second novel, The Herd, will be published in 2020.

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