Bazaar Book Chat: “Anita de Monte Laughs Last”

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Anita de Monte Laughs Last (A Novel)

Anita de Monte Laughs Last (A Novel)

Anita de Monte Laughs Last (A Novel)

Rosa Sanchez (senior news editor)

Hi @here! Kicking us off for another Bazaar Book Chat! For March, we read Anita de Monte Laughs Last, by Xochitl Gonzalez, a vibrant novel that follows the lives of two Latina women: one a frustrated artist trying to make it in an industry led by white men, the other a young college art-history student attempting to relate to a close-minded fine-art world that celebrates creativity and individuality as long as it’s rich and Caucasian. After twists and turns, we discover how these two women’s worlds come together. (The novel is actually based on the real-life story of Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta, who fell out of a window and died in 1985, at the peak of her career. Her fellow-artist husband, Carl Andre, was subsequently charged with her murder, but eventually acquitted.)

First thoughts?

Joel Calfee (editorial and social media assistant)

This book pulled me in immediately! The writing was so engaging, and Anita is such an electric character—I loved seeing things from her point of view. When she starts spinning in the middle of the room with her sequin-covered dress at that party scene in the beginning, I already knew I was gonna love this book.

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Rosa Sanchez

I was hooked on this book from the first sentence. Gonzalez really knows how to build suspense and intrigue, and the fact that it starts off with a vengeful, champagne-fueled fight between lovers? I mean, how could we not keep reading?

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Ariana Marsh (senior features editor)

I was excited for this book because (1) Xochitl Gonzalez (enough said) and (2) I went into it knowing the true story the narrative is based around involving Ana Mendieta. Had you guys heard of her before reading this book/did you know it was based on a true story?

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Rosa Sanchez

I had no idea! but that makes it so much juicier.

Leah Chernikoff (executive editor)

Ana’s story is really having its moment!

Izzy Grinspan (digital director)

I’d heard of her, but not until last year, when the writer Claire Dederer included her in her nonfiction book Monsters, which explores artists and morality.

Rosa Sanchez

Wow. Now I’m even more furious that the man got away with it.

Ariana Marsh

He just recently passed! But there have been somewhat recent vigils for Ana held at Dia Beacon, which is nice.

Izzy Grinspan

It’s kind of shocking that none of us knew who she was until very recently, considering that we’re all fairly knowledgeable about art. This kind of gets to Xochitl Gonzalez’s point, right? That Mendieta’s story was just erased from the record.

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Rosa Sanchez

Yeah, exactly.

Joel Calfee

It’s crazy to me that I had never heard about her story before reading this book! It really made the book even more impactful, and I’m so glad Gonzalez chose to weave that real-life narrative into the story.

Ariana Marsh

Yes, totally! I love that she’s bringing Mendieta back into the narrative through her own unique retelling.

Rosa Sanchez

And it all brings up so much conversation about abusive and toxic relationships. I could not find an ounce of sympathy with Jack’s story, but my theory is that Gonzalez put his chapters in there to make us even more angry about what he’d done, especially since he never shows remorse, and his ego just continues to grow.

Joel Calfee

The first time I saw his perspective, I actually screamed, LOL. I did not want his POV, but I think it does help to make him even more of a villain.

Rosa Sanchez

Full delulu!

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Ariana Marsh

Their dynamic also points out just how exclusionary and sexist the art industry has always been.

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Rosa Sanchez

Definitely. the conversations around the Art Girls were so interesting to me, especially when Raquel mentions that Mavette, the only Black girl in the group, is the one who makes them look “sophisticated,” because with her, yeah they’re still rich nepo babies, but they’re inclusive now. What did you think about the difficult topics on race that were brought up throughout?

Joel Calfee

Having studied art history all throughout high school, I thought it was the perfect backdrop for this book. It’s depressing how much of art history centers around white men who have either taken ideas from other cultures or who have simply been centered as the “tastemakers” of the world. I also thought the timelines demonstrated how change in the art world is suuuper slow.

The quote that Gonzalez uses in the epigraph of the book is super telling as well, and it’s from an anthology! (In the quote, art history scholar Anthony F. Jason explains why he chose to focus on Western artists in his History of Art, Volume II, admitting he finds them more significant than artists of other ethnicities.) But I think the book leaves us with the feeling that there’s still hope for artists like Anita to shake things up and *hopefully* we will continue to see artists of color get the praise they deserve.

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Izzy Grinspan

I started at Brown just a few years after Raquel (and Gonzalez), and I think she really nailed the surface-level progressivism of late-’90s liberal arts schools. On the one hand, everyone wants to shake up the status quo, but you’re also in this educational system that reinforces it.

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Joel Calfee

I also thought Raquel’s advisor was a perfect representation of how the people in power at higher institutions can influence future scholarship and what students study/research and how it just reinforces the same artists getting praised.

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Rosa Sanchez

No, exactly. I went to college for art, so I’ve spent a lot of time in that environment that Anita and Raquel describe. It definitely brought me back to my gallery era, and made me think of certain artists I went to school with who’ve found success in that world while others, with arguably more talent, haven’t. It also made me remember some occasions when I’ve reacted to things the way Raquel does: polite and not wanting to make a mess of things, but kind of wishing I had.

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Izzy Grinspan

Which is such a contrast from Anita, who is outspoken but pays a price for it.

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Rosa Sanchez

I loved her. I was always so excited to read about Anita because of how explosive the drama was between her and Jack—not even knowing it was all based on a super-dark reality. And I especially felt her rage when Jack dismissed her work as lesser-than, and her passion as classic explosive Latina behavior. Raquel’s college life and college problems were equally intriguing, maybe in a more relatable and quiet way, but everything that made her angry was so relatable to me, and I felt angry for her.

Izzy Grinspan

What did you think about the connection between the two main characters? I kept waiting for the moment they would meet (or, you know, “meet” in a from-beyond-the-grave kind of way).

Rosa Sanchez

I liked that these stories were happening on different timelines, but eventually they found a natural ending together. It all started making sense to me once the issues with Nick started coming up in a quieter but equally dangerous way than with Jack. Though I didn’t necessarily expect the characters to actually “meet.” That was surprising.

And when the magical realism kicked in, I was so happy, lol. How did you feel about the fantastical elements in the book in Anita’s storyline?

Izzy Grinspan

I thought it was handled so well! I liked how she gave us a quick explanation for the magical elements that felt emotionally true (artists can come back after death but only when people care about their work) and then didn’t belabor it. And I liked the mischief Anita got up to as a bat. It was satisfying and cinematic.

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Rosa Sanchez

Totally. Though bizarre, I feel like the spiritual, magical elements just made sense for her. She was painted as such a loud, passionate, colorful person with so much left to give, so when her metaphorical and literal wings spread, I was like, yeah, that’s what this story was missing. Plus, I kind of feel like Gonzalez plugged that fantasy in to be ironic, a little bit, and purposely lean into the stereotype that everyyyy Hispanic story has to have magical realism—a stereotype I’m sure she doesn’t agree with.

Joel Calfee

I completely agree! I think she meant it to be ironic but also challenge our assumptions of what Hispanic literature should be and how’s it’s presented. She takes a very contemporary lit-style story based somewhat in history and then throws that in as a surprise—I loved it! The whole book is about being proud and loud with your art and heritage, and the incorporation of the magical realism just furthered that for me.

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Rosa Sanchez

For non-Spanish speakers, was it hard to understand/keep up with the scattered Spanish words and sentences Gonzalez threw in there?

Izzy Grinspan

I didn’t think so! She did the same thing in Olga Dies Dreaming.

Rosa Sanchez

I need to read that one!!

Izzy Grinspan

Oh it’s great—maybe even better than this one, although I really liked them both.

Rosa Sanchez

I actually DMed her and was like: I’M OBSESSED. And she said she’s writing a third! Yay! She’s so good at understanding women’s rage.

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Izzy Grinspan

In her first, she’s just so good on the topic of Brooklyn and the many different layers of New York. AND it’s a rom-com, which makes it even more fun.

Rosa Sanchez

Okay, I have many final thoughts on this! It’s been a while since I read a book that so candidly talked about race from a perspective I can get behind—not even in a scholarly, preachy way, but in a racism is literally happening to me before my eyes and I can’t unsee it and no one is doing anything about it kind of way. I especially felt Anita’s rage when her husband dismissed her work as lesser-than and her passion as classic explosive Latina behavior. And I sympathized with the way Raquel felt confused and guilty for wanting to succeed in a very white world that still, after all this time, does not genuinely embrace her culture.

It was especially heartbreaking to me when Raquel introduced her New York City rich boyfriend to her not-rich Hispanic family and she felt immediate anxiety and sadness realizing her two worlds had a long way to go before they could fully come together. The way Nick saw her family as not chic enough for his Hamptons life. The way her mother instantly judged Nick for his money and pomp. It’s stereotyping, but there’s an underlying truth behind many stereotypes, and if you’ve lived through a moment like this—or even if you haven’t—the way Gonzalez writes it is so emotional. There’s a part where Raquel’s sister tells her that Raquel looks at Nick like “he’s a prize,” and he looks at them like they’re there “to clean his studio.” I died.

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Our Bazaar Book Chat pick for April is The Divorcées by Rowan Beaird. Read along with us and pick up your copy of the book here.

Lettermark

Rosa Sanchez is the senior news editor at Harper’s Bazaar, working on news as it relates to entertainment, fashion, and culture. Previously, she was a news editor at ABC News and, prior to that, a managing editor of celebrity news at American Media. She has also written features for Rolling Stone, Teen Vogue, Forbes, and The Hollywood Reporter, among other outlets.