A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"A radiant first novel. . . . [Neon in Daylight] has antecedents in the great novels of the 1970s: Renata Adler’s Speedboat, Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights, Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays. . . . Precision—of observation, of language—is Hoby’s gift. Her sentences are sleek and tailored. Language molds snugly to thought." —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
New York City in 2012, the sweltering summer before Hurricane Sandy hits. Kate, a young woman newly arrived from England, is staying in a Manhattan apartment while she tries to figure out her future. She has two unfortunate responsibilities during her time in America: to make regular Skype calls to her miserable boyfriend back home, and to cat–sit an indifferent feline named Joni Mitchell.
The city has other plans for her. In New York's parks and bodegas, its galleries and performance spaces, its bars and clubs crowded with bodies, Kate encounters two strangers who will transform her stay: Bill, a charismatic but embittered writer made famous by the movie version of his only novel; and Inez, his daughter, a recent high school graduate who supplements her Bushwick cafe salary by enacting the fantasies of men she meets on Craigslist. Unmoored from her old life, Kate falls into an infatuation with both of them.
Set in a heatwave that feels like it will never break, Neon In Daylight marries deep intelligence with captivating characters to offer us a joyful, unflinching exploration of desire, solitude, and the thin line between life and art.
An Englishwoman named Kate arrives in contemporary New York with no plan and no prospects in Hoby's promising debut novel. Kate has abandoned her PhD program and boyfriend, so disillusioned that "speaking anything out loud" has come to "feel like an audacity." She finds two accomplices to the reinvention she seeks: Inez, a teenager Kate befriends after Inez confuses her for someone looking to buy Adderall, and Inez's washed-up novelist father, Bill. Kate remains ignorant of their familial link even as the drugs Inez introduces her to fuel Kate and Bill's "mutual seduction." Though Hoby relies on a well-trod conceit in mirroring Kate's quest for self-actualization with her exploration of New York, her sharp distillations of the demands the city makes of people energize the book's familiar beats. Most memorable is Inez's side hustle of fulfilling the fantasies of "Craigslist perverts," surprising encounters that compensate for the more predictable moments. Indeed, even as a collision between Kate's friendship and love affair becomes inevitable, Hoby wisely avoids posing the necessary confrontations as a resolution to Kate's problems. This is a sharp novel with perceptive observations (at a gallery, "there's something religious-looking about iPhones raised en masse") and vivid, complicated relationships.