Nobody at the Soho House seems to remember how they met Christopher Bollen, editor-at-large of Interview and now the author of a debut novel, Lightning People, whose publication they’ve all assembled to celebrate. It may be because of the way he sniffs people out on his own, curating the magazine’s glossy pages—even in a city of clubby cheek-kissers, Bollen stands out, a social superconductor. But the guests are circumspect on the subject, too, like they’re guarding a secret weapon.
“Chris Bollen and I run in the same seedy circles,” offers Natasha Lyonne, the actress turned catastrophe turned actress again. “And by that I mean we’re neighbors.” Waris Ahluwalia, the jewelry designer, also plays coy. “How did you answer that question?” he asks Lyonne. “I lied,” she responds. “If you were neighbors,” he says wryly, “could it be that I was a neighbor too?”
Bollen, for his part, seems electrified by the crowd. “I was worried that people would be tired of a New York story, but I feel quite the opposite. The response has been so excited!” he says. “I always think that New York is a regional city like any other, and the art isn’t any different and the music isn’t any different. But people definitely know how to connect more.”
Now a New Yorker who bobs around in the swirling eddies of parties, event photographs, and private clubs, Bollen grew up in Ohio dreaming of the city, like one of the book’s protagonists. “I felt like there was a whole group of people, including myself, who came to New York and wanted to pursue these optimistic, sort of artistic careers and ended up finding after September 11 a shell of the city that didn’t have those opportunities anymore, and that was much darker and more pessimistic,” he says. “And no one really told that story.
“I started going out in 1996 in New York and I was a college student, and I started meeting people,” he says, a social rush that got tiring eventually. “I definitely did enter my thirties feeling a little burned out on the excitable and infinite possibilities of New York in my twenties. It just stopped being such a happy place for me in a lot of ways.”
Lightning People is a New York novel, but filled with lost characters that probably wouldn’t make it past the doorman at the Soho House. The title derives from a questionable meteorological phenomenon: Since the World Trade Center fell ten years ago, Bollen claims, lightning has been striking lower points, producing a string of freak rooftop deaths. “September 11 sort of haunts the book—it has definitely overshadowed the last ten years of living here,” Bollen tells me, by which he means his last ten years. “If I hear one more story about the generation that was 6 and how they’ve grown up with September 11 …” he trails off. “Like I actually don’t care what a 6-year-old thinks of September 11. Or a 16-year-old.”
This is Bollen’s second book party, with at least two more planned—one at Miami’s Soho House and one at L.A.’s. The first event, an early-evening “prelaunch” in May, was held at the haughty Boom Boom Room, and tonight Bollen’s circle of visual people has turned out in force again, despite a thunderstorm outside. When I check around the club room’s candelabra-covered tables to find my name tag, I notice that I’ll be at the same booth as socialite Fabiola Beracasa. I see Michael Stipe’s name at another table, Elle’s Anne Slowey at the one adjacent, and all three Misshapes D.J.’s at a third, scrunched in beside Interview editorial director Fabien Baron.
But it’s a stormy night, and as the party wears on, things get a little tossed around. Daphne Guinness, muse to the late Alexander McQueen, arrives carrying a purse shaped like a meat cleaver, and quickly moves her name tag away from Peter Brant, the art collector and Interview publisher, to sit with writer Derek Blasberg. (“Chris is a steady rock-solid friend,” Guinness tells me. “What more could you ask for in 2011, which is full of fakey people?”) Someone in Beracasa’s crew switches my name out, and I find myself sitting instead with Lyonne and Ryan McGinley, the famous young photographer of enthusiastic nudes. Across from me is David Armstrong, a slightly older photographer of slightly less enthusiastic nudes.
“I’ve been touched by all the friends that came tonight,” Bollen tells me, a bit wistful but speaking in his usual sing-song-y voice. “It’s funny,” he says, scanning the room full of artists and scenemakers. “There should be way more writers here.”