Pelham resident Karen Dukess hosts book launch for first novel ‘The Last Book Party’


Pelham resident Karen Dukess hosted a book launch for her first novel, “The Last Book Party,” at the Pelham Public Library on Tuesday. Dukess and Libby Burton, her editor at Henry Holt and Co., held a question and answer session to allow the 80-person crowd to ask questions about the book as well as the author’s writing process. Dukess also read a few pages from the book that engaged the listeners and left many wanting more. 

The novel takes place on Cape Cod during 1987, when protagonist and aspiring writer Eve Rosenan becomes assistant to a renowned New Yorker writer for the summer. Dukess said she found motivation for “The Last Book Party” from many sources: Her writing group, Cape Cod and her inner passion. Dukess said her writing group gave her encouragement and positive energy, which helped bring confidence to her writing.

The Cape Cod setting was inspired by her family trips to the Cape, where her parents built a house in a rural area, the author said. As a child, Dukess found herself playing on empty beaches. The novel started out as a memoir of a magical day on the Cape and turned into fiction in which elements of the memoir were incorporated. The cover art reflects the feeling of a girl on a summer day on Cape Cod. 

The loss of Dukess’s father made her realize that life doesn’t go on forever. As a result, she said she decided that her part-time job writing speeches at the United Nations was not her passion; reading and writing books was. Dukess called “The Last Book Party” a perfect summer “beach read.” She said she wanted the book to be “easy to read, plot-driven, all the while being an intelligent book and well-written.”

The most difficult part of the writing process was getting the story completed on paper, Dukess said. As a former journalist, she said having hard deadlines helped, but getting the story done was difficult. Unlike some writers, she said she enjoyed the editing process.

Burton said Dukess was great about accepting constructive criticism and not taking the edits personally.

The author’s advice to aspiring writers who struggle to find time to write is to write whenever you can. “Don’t believe that you must write every day,” she said. “Do what works for you.” Dukess wrote every Tuesday for three to four hours. 

Jacqueline Haft, a friend of Dukess for 20 years attending the party, said she has read much of the author’s work and is excited to read the new novel, saying Dukess uses beautiful language in her writing.

“The vibe in the discussion questions was great” during the Q&A, Haft said. “The crowd can really gage the author’s passion for the book and the character.”

The book makes many literary allusions, including to “Jane Eyre,” “Goodbye Columbus” and “Rebecca.” Dukess said she enjoyed including certain aspects of these books in her own novel. She pointed to allusions to “Goodbye Columbus” in “The Last Book Party,” such as someone looking at a world that isn’t their own and drawing superficial conclusions about that world and learning not to jump to those conclusions.

Throughout the novel, Eve learns essential lessons that young women could relate to and hopefully learn from, Dukess said, including “claiming your own voice” and “not believing everything you see and hear or jumping to conclusions without searching for the facts,” and most importantly, “doing what you want to do and are passionate about.”

The target audience for the book is both young and older women, since the older readers might relate to the 1987 timeframe, while the younger ones could have a different, more “historical” perspective on it, Burton said. The younger demographic may be able to identify with the journey Eve takes and the lessons she learns. 

Dukess gave a few hints about the next book she is working on, mentioning it is set in 2016.

“I went back to Russia for the first time in 21 years for inspiration for the book,” she said. Dukess majored in Russian studies and lived in Russia for 6 years.

“The Last Book Party” has already made it on to several important lists:

  • A July 2019 Indie Next List Great Read
  • One of Parade’s Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2019
  • An O Magazine Best Beach Read of 2019
  • A New York Post Best Beach Read of 2019