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The Lola Quartet, Emily St John Mandel, Unbridled Books, 2012, 288 pp
I did not experience the unconditional love for this book that I felt after Emily St John Mandel's first two novels. This is not necessarily a bad thing because I could feel her growth as an author. The fine writing, the suspense, the great characters are all present but she has had a change of heart. Last Night in Montreal centered around a young woman whose bizarre childhood compelled her to wander ceaselessly. The protagonist in The Singer's Gun tried to outrun his criminal upbringing. Both of these characters were trapped by destiny but I got a sense of hope that each one would possibly escape.
The Lola Quartet, named after a four-piece band of high school kids, takes place ten years after (ha, another good band name) the four members have gone their separate ways. Like a chorus that comes around over and over, they are pulled back together in their crappy Florida town. Once again destiny has claimed them.
Mandel sticks with her usual themes: individuals in their twenties reaching towards a mirage of adulthood without any good examples, life lived on the fringes of normalcy, and questions of identity and connection. A mystery runs through it carrying brutal consequences stemming from money, drugs and paternity. This time there is a child involved; a ten-year-old girl who is blissfully unaware of the danger that surrounds her.
Set smack in the present moment with the fall-out from economic meltdown, suburbs composed of the same malls and fast food emporiums no matter the town, and criminals at every level of society, the novel reads almost like today's news. Many of us are in better shape than these characters but we are surrounded by them every day on the streets of our towns and cities.
I guess everyone in the story gets what he or she deserves by the end. No one changes much. By tiny increments but just as much because of something like karma, the truly bad are punished, the ones who can help others get a chance and the guys who started out as hopeless remain hopeless. Pretty dark stuff. I wonder where Emily St John Mandel will go from here. I wonder where the world will go from here.
(The Lola Quartet is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)