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When she was a teenager in the ’90s, Anton DiSclafani often visited her grandparents in Houston, traveling here from her hometown of Ocala, Florida. Ever since, she's remembered the oak-lined neighborhood of River Oaks, with its manicured lawns and gleaming mansions. What went on behind the heavy curtains hanging in the homes’ front windows? She's always wondered, and never quite figured it out.

“I think that people like to look at Houston and gawk at it because nobody really understands it,” says DiSclafani, now an author and a professor at Auburn University in Alabama. “There’s this mystery to Houston’s social scene.”

DiSclafani set her sophomore novel, The After Party, which debuts this month, in River Oaks at the mid-century mark. The storied neighborhood makes the perfect backdrop for the tale, which is rich with sex, lies, side-eyes and cocktail parties, and chronicles the all-consuming, obsessive friendship between two women: aspiring debutante Joan, loosely based on real-life murdered socialite Joan Hill, and her newly jealous pal, Cece, who’s unhappy with Joan’s success climbing the social ladder.

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“It’s easier to be friends with people who do the same things as you do and live in the same houses as you do,” says DiSclafani, whose first novel, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, was released in 2013 and also explores female friendship (the New York Times called it a page-turner). “For a while that works. But when it doesn’t, it falls apart.”

Filled with references longtime Houstonians will get a kick out of—think Shamrock Hotel, Petroleum Club—The After Party not only tells a captivating story but adeptly captures the city as it was more than half a century ago. “I’m interested in history,” DiSclafani says, “and in these lost worlds that can be recreated in fiction.”

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