Jaclyn Mason, Cristina Alger, and Lauren Mason. Photograph by James R. Brantley.
Imagine the quintessential Washington cocktail party celebrating the quintessential New York novel, throw in a family of hosts in all age ranges and plenty good food and wine, and you’d have last night’s party celebrating The Darlings, Cristina Alger’s acclaimed first novel, about a family named Darling who become enmeshed in a Wall Street imbroglio circa the 2008 meltdown. Those who’ve read the book call it a “thriller” and a “page turner” as well as a juicy glimpse into New York high society.
It was Washington society at the book party. The hosts were the Mason family— Joann and John and their daughters, Lauren and Jaclyn—at their Kalorama home. Joann and John invited a lot of their friends, and the daughters invited a lot of their friends, providing for the energetic mix of ages. Alger’s group included classmates from Harvard. She stood against the wall, talking quietly, almost wide-eyed at the DC turnout.
What we talked about was a troubling part of her past that makes only a small appearance in the novel. When Alger was 21 and away at school, her father died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. He worked in the North Tower on the 92nd floor. Her mother told her the devastating news. How did she work through her grief? Did she use writing?
“No,” she said, “I went to work and worked hard, and that was a distraction.” She said she kept moving forward while also looking out for her mother. Alger worked as an analyst at Goldman Sachs and as a lawyer for WilmerHale.
John and Joann Mason circulated among the several rooms where the party was held, though most of the guests were drawn to the dining room, which featured a spread of homemade canapés: smoked salmon on toast points, anchovy toast, a Mexican dip, egg salad, rare tenderloin sandwiches, assorted charcuterie, and an addictive combination of Parmesan and truffled honey. Waiters circulated with silver trays of red and white wine and ice water. The well-chosen wines were popular.
Didi Cutler, watching it all, expounded on the skills of a wonderful hostess such as Joann, and on how her real skill went deeper, in the way she enriched the lives of her friends. “To me, people are either butterflies or worms,” Cutler said. “The butterflies flit around from here to here to here. The worms, on the other hand, burrow into the ground and enrich the soil around them. That’s Joann. She’s a worm.”
She may be a worm, but Joanna and her husband also are pilots, and by the end of the week will be flying their Gulfstream to Tortola for a five-day holiday. John usually flies the plane, with the help of a professional copilot; Joann sometimes flies but also likes to sit with their guests in the compartment, making her a worm and a flight attendant.
Among the guests were Roland Celette, Lucky Roosevelt, Robert Higdon and David Deckelbaum, John Arundel, Said and Shamim Jawad, Arturo and Hilda Brillembourg, Aniko Schott, Ashley Taylor, Sharon and Bruce Bradley, Maximo and Sedi Flugelman, Alexa Chopivsky, Francesca Craig, Robert and Aimee Lehrman, John Pyles and Barbara Harrison, Daniel Penn and Meredith Barnett, Carlos Gutierrez, Howard Lee, John Gogos, Eric Motley, Kevin Chaffee, Alma Gildenhorn, and Huda Farouki.