Bushwick finally has its own murder-mystery novel—and it’s a good one, too! Journalist Andrea Bartz, who established herself as a scholar of hipsterdom as co-author of mock-guidebook Stuff Hipsters Hate, has deftly placed a group of plaid-shirt-wearing characters in a whodunit set at the intersection of the media and art worlds. Set between 2008-2009 and the present day, her novel The Lost Night follows literary essayist turned head fact-checker Lindsay Bach as she tries to piece together what happened the night her impossibly beautiful and charismatic former best friend Edie was found dead by apparent suicide; the “Calhoun Lofts,” a dump-meets-arts-haven in Bushwick, is its sandbox-like backdrop.
For those who are into following a group of self-absorbed and pretentious twenty-somethings as they unravel, The Lost Night elicits the same gleeful pleasure as subculture-specific thrillers like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. with its classicists, and Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature, which follows literary types with rich-people hobbies. These novels seamlessly combine the “thriller” element with acute remarks on a particular kind of people, and could almost sustain themselves even without the obligatory dead body.
I caught up with Bartz ahead of the Feb. 26 release of her book to talk about then and now. It’s about time for some aughts nostalgia.
I was looking back on my own time in New York when I had first moved here at 23, newly out of college. It was this really interesting time for being a 20-something in New York, especially working in the arts. I thought “hipster Brooklyn” might make an interesting setting for a mystery. I had a lot of doubts, because it was 2014, and everyone still really hated hipsters in 2014, but I decided to give it a go and see what would happen.
In trying to develop an idea, I was thinking of the McKibbin lofts in Bushwick, how it was the nerve-center for the scene. I have never lived there, but every time I entered, on any given Friday night, without any plans, you could basically do a choose-your-own adventure. There could be a play happening in one loft, there would be a poetry reading [in another], then there would be a concert… your friends would split off and you’d have these crazy nights and then you’d find each other later in the night or the next morning and “compare notes.” It was this interesting closed door sort of world that would make an interesting set of a murder.
You co-authored Stuff Hipsters Hate with Brenna Ehrlich, which rose from a tumblr of the same name; how much of those “anthropological phenomena” did you put into The Lost Night?
A lot of the scenes and the characteristics are the same, not so much because I was cannibalizing our own book, but more so because I was trying to authentically capture that subculture. This is part of why, when I started writing The Lost Night, I was so worried that people would be like Why is this woman obsessed with hipster Brooklyn? Why is she obsessed with this annoying subculture? I thought there was more to explore there, and I was exploring it in a very different way through fiction and “serious endeavors” than through a humor book. A lot of the same bars make appearances, people listened to the same bands, and wear the same clothes, stuff makes reappearance in that way, but there’s no direct A to B.
From the beginning I had the idea of Lindsay investigating her best friend’s apparent suicide from a night that she herself doesn’t remember as well as she thought. For her, to have a reason to investigate, she had to, obviously, not have all the information herself. Another element that a lot of thrillers have is memory loss, and using memory loss as a theme or motif, and it’s because for all of us it’s disturbing, scary, and unsettling or downright terrifying to not be able to trust ourselves. I know I personally, when I was 23 and drinking more and thinking I was invincible, experienced that shame and scary experience the next day of not remembering what happened the night before.
[At 23] I was making an entry-level salary as an assistant at Condé Nast, and I didn’t have any savings yet, I didn’t have any 401k. There was a little bit of a sense of freedom, of lawlessness as in We can do whatever we want and dance as the world burns because there’s nothing we can do about it. Of course, I do say it from a background of privilege: I did have a full-time job and didn’t have crushing student debt, and there are a lot of people whom being 23 didn’t protect from the horrible things going on.
In the meantime, there was so much creation going on: bands were forming left and right, there were so many concerts every night. People were writing blogs, people were starting tumblrs with their photography and they were growing. People had zines. There was this unbridled creation that was the direct result of feeling like the rules of “normal” had just been tossed out the window. We no longer had to wait for permission to share our art.
It seems like that moment, and the hipster explosion was a part of it, was so new in that you yourself couldn’t get a full-time job and couldn’t work hard and be rewarded in the traditional sense that it led to all of this release of pent-up creative energy. Now, the current 23-year-olds were only 13 when we went through recession for the first time and they saw it. They had ten years of being the slaves of capitalism, ten years of knowing the job market sucks for a lot of creative fields, that journalism is harder to break into than ever, that it’s hard to make a living from your writing and to make a living from your art and to them it’s a not-new and not-freeing idea, that it’s not leading to this creating for the sake of creating. It’s not as freeing?
Well, they’re not all living in Westchester within a white picket fence, but that particular era has ended. The era of the influencers has changed the look of it; hipsterdom, even if you had a lot of money, was marked by real or imagined poverty. You had your mattress on the floor, you did things cheaply where there was nothing lux about it. Now we have this era of influencers, and what’s cool now and aspirational is much shinier and fancier-looking than it was in 2009. I think that very specific archetypes that we saw in 2009– with the plaid and the thick-rimmed glasses and creative facial hair, or for women, the cut-off jean shorts and the 70s hair and the vintage crop top– I think that era has dispersed and is no longer an object of fascination as a subculture.
In terms of pop culture, movies like Garden State or Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind are true time capsules of the aughts. I also miss the era of there being so many bands in Brooklyn, and they all shared members: one was a drummer for this band, and would be the guitarist in that band, and so on. And all the names of these bands involved woodland creatures, and colors, or they would be a common word with a vowel taken out. I do miss being tapped into that scene. Now I go to concerts and I think to myself oh, it’s loud and crowded and not fun, but at the time it was so fun.
Interview has been edited and condensed.