The book: A recently laid off New York journalist, Jillian Beckley, makes it her mission to uncover the top-secret, elite, female society called Nevertheless in Laura Hankin’10’s new book A Special Place for Women (Penguin Random House). As Jillian falls deeper and deeper into her undercover investigation, she realizes that this group of high society women, who sometimes refer to themselves as witches, may be hiding something more. Soon, Jillian comes to understand the extent of the Nevertheless’s power and what happens to those who dare to go against the grain of the group. Obsessed with exposing New York's most influential women, Jillian ventures into risky territory to land her story.The author: Laura Hankin ’10 is a writer and performer based in New York and D.C. Her first book Happy & You Know It is about a group of wealthy mothers and the musician who they employ to sing to their children. Hankin has also been published in LitHub, HuffPost, and McSweeney’s. Dabbling in the world of comedy and song writing, Hankin is also known for being a part of the musical duo Feminarchy, where her videos have gone viral and have been featured on Funny or Die, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times. Hankin has also worked in the acting industry, where she has held roles in the movies While We’re Young (2014) and Emergency Contacts (2016).
Excerpt: Over the past few years, rumors had started swirling about a secret, women-only social club called “Nevertheless,” where the elite tastemakers of NYC met to scratch one another’s backs. People in the know whispered all sorts of claims: Membership dues cost $1,000 a month. Last time Rihanna had been in town, she’d stopped by and gotten her aura read. Nevertheless took its no-men-allowed policy so seriously that when some belligerent guy tried to follow his girlfriend inside one night, a (female) security guard swiftly broke his collarbone.
Then, there were the more serious rumors: that the women of Nevertheless had been responsible for electing New York City’s first female mayor. And the conspiracy theories: that when she’d come for their fortunes, they’d taken her down.
If you had, say, founded a judgment-free exercise studio that donated half its profits to schoolgirls in Haiti, you’d probably done it to help the world. But you also hoped that now they would notice you. Now you’d get an invitation.
Once, a reporter had been interviewing Margot Wilding, a former socialite who’d invented a popular astrology app, and whose presence at your gallery opening or fundraiser immediately boosted its chances of being covered by Page Six. “I’ve heard rumors that you’re a member of Nevertheless,” the reporter had said, leaning in, sycophantic. “What do I have to do to get you to dish?”
For just a moment, Margot stiffened. Then she switched on a languid smile. “Oh,” she said. “We’re just a coven of all-powerful witches, of course.”
“Of course,” the reporter said, laughing politely. “Really, though—”
“Next question,” Margot said.
That was the closest anyone got to publicly confirming Nevertheless’s existence until the night I burned its clubhouse to the ground.
Sometimes when you’re having the shittiest of days, you need to take one more tequila shot and splash some water on your face. Then, as absurd as it seems, you’ve got to go to a restaurant opening.
On one such shit day—the day that would end up setting everything in motion—I stood in front of a storefront lit with lanterns. In the window, my reflection wobbled, a disheveled figure in a corduroy miniskirt, dark curly hair all mussed from the windy September evening. That afternoon, I’d lost my job. The idea of hobnobbing in a crowd of loud, sparkling people made my stomach turn.
But I had to go inside. This was Raf’s opening. He was fancy now, profiled in Vanity Fair as the hot new celebrity chef on the scene, but he was also still the stringy boy down the block. After my parents divorced, when my mom needed a place for me to stay with free supervision until she got home from work, I’d spent multiple afternoons a week in Raf’s living room. Raf had always shared his Doritos and listened to me declaim the terrible poetry I’d written when I should’ve been paying attention in math class.
In and out, that was the plan. I threw my shoulders back and walked into the chatter, the sweet garlicky smells. Raf’s parents had grown up in Cuba before emigrating to the States together, and the press loved talking about how this fast-rising chef was re-inventing the food of his roots with distinctly American twists. The breads were baked in-house. The meat came from a farm upstate where the animals were treated like family, until they were slaughtered.
I gave my name to a young woman at the door, and she scanned the clipboard in her hand, then waved me into the throng. There were two contingents in attendance—the older investor types, and then a smattering of New York’s privileged millennial crowd, who dropped by restaurant openings as casually as I dropped by my neighborhood bodega. Waiters carried trays of mojitos, or plantains speared with toothpicks. One of them offered me a miniature deconstructed Cubano, tiny and glistening with oil, like a sandwich for a doll. I popped it in my mouth, then paused to marvel at the taste of it. It was just so full of flavor, life bursting in my throat. I grabbed a mojito and took a long sip, scanning the room for Raf.
There he was, in a corner, wiry, tall, and tan, with a tattoo snaking up one arm, wearing a freaking baseball cap and T-shirt to his own opening. God, a woman could never get away with that, but if anything, it increased his appeal, judging by the gaggle of model-types jockeying for his attention. Raf was cute enough, but he wasn’t the kind of guy you’d stop to look at twice on the street. Now, though, he had status, so he could go home with any woman he chose. We all wanted to feel that we were special, and if a special guy wanted to sleep with us, that seemed close enough. I rolled my eyes at the machinations of the women around him (although I’d been that way too in my early to mid-twenties, hadn’t I, jumping into bed with a visiting professor at my nonfiction graduate writing program and thinking that it made me unique). Then I walked toward him.
“Jillian!” he said, his eyes crinkling with relief to see a familiar face. He stepped away from the others and wrapped me in a bear hug. He was a little sweaty, uneasy at being the center of attention. “Oh, thank God, someone I know how to talk to.”
“Hey, Raffie,” I said into his chest, then held him at arm’s length. “Look at you, you’re such a big deal!” I leaned in and narrowed my eyes, all conspiratorial. “Tell me the truth, how much of a fuck boy are you being right now?”
His grin turned sheepish, and he tugged on his cap. “Not… you know… Maybe a little bit of one.”
I laughed, or tried to anyway, and he looked at me. “Hey, you okay?”
Well, I wanted to say. You know how I had to put my career on hold to take care of my mom while she slowly died of cancer? And how I just came back to work full-time, ready to write the zeitgeist-capturing journalism I’d spent the last couple years dreaming about? Today, the billionaire who owned my news website shut us down because he’d rather use his money to buy a second yacht. So I’m not okay at all, actually.
Instead, I waved my hand through the air and took another long sip of my drink. “I’m golden,” I said. The last time I’d seen Raf was at the funeral a couple months ago, when his family had sat with me in the pew. I’d sent my asshole father a few e-mails over the course of my mother’s illness to let him know what was happening to the woman he had once loved and left. But I hadn’t expected him to come back for her service, and he’d proven me right. Instead, the Morales family had stepped in as honorary relatives, providing casseroles and company. And during the years my mom was sick, Raf had regularly taken the subway all the way out to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to rake her leaves and shovel her snow, even after I moved home and could have done it myself. No way in hell did he deserve to spend his restaurant opening listening to my problems.
“I’m not the important one right now,” I said. “Don’t try to distract me from your amazing food.”
Review: “One of the smartest, sharpest, and funniest books I’ve read in years. A novel that will keep you on the knife’s edge between dread and delight, turning pages late into the night. Some books are meant to be devoured—this one does the devouring.” -Emily Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Beach Read