Monday, July 23, 2012

THE LOLA QUARTET by Emily St. John Mandel (2012) Unbridled Books, 279 pages

It pleases me perversely that I'm posting this review of THE LOLA QUARTET on Raymond Chandler's birthday. (Born July 23, 1888) 

In a noir style reminiscent of Chandler's THE LONG GOODBYE, Mandel unfurls her engrossing tale of journalist Gavin Sasaki with adept skill and a keen reverence for the genre in which she places her protagonist, who, clad in a trench coat and a fedora, doesn't "want to work at a newspaper per se," as his NYC copy editor chides but rather "to work in 1925." Gavin, whose favourite films are "all older than he was" and has seen Polanski's CHINATOWN "a dozen times," does not disagree. He'd like to be Philip Marlowe, sleuthing his way through other people's problems. Well, who wouldn't? Soon enough Gavin gets his wish. Sort of.

Set during the recent economic collapse when companies in all sectors had to downsize, Gavin loses his job, because he gets caught fabricating attributions for his articles. When asked about his choice, he readily admits, "Yeah, I lied. I made up people who gave me quotes because real people are so goddamned disappointing...they're pitiful." Fate takes control and Gavin ends up moving back home to Florida to live with his sister Eilo whose real estate foreclosure business is burgeoning. There, a chance encounter with a familiar-looking child leads to some complicated truths in Gavin's life.

Moving masterfully back and forth in time between the halcyon final days of high school, when Gavin played in a jazz quartet with his friends Daniel, Jack and Sasha named "after a German film they'd all liked with Lola in the title," and the present of 2009, Mandel is unafraid to plumb each time's darkness and attendant vulnerability for each of the players.

Toss in an unintended connection to the drug trade that requires payment in full, the threat of Burmese pythons in the Florida swamps, "seven-foot-long two-hundred-pound Nile monitors with eerily intelligent eyes...perfectly capable of eating a small dog," an ex-girlfriend on the lam, a gambling addict, and a guitar player as fine as Django Reinhardt, and you've got layer upon narrative layer that will keep your head spinning and your heart pumping right on through to the story's resolution.

Like Chandler-- perhaps the acknowledged master of the genre before her-- Mandel knows as her protagonist Gavin reveals as he heads "toward the north star and morning" that, "to say goodbye is to die a little." 


Beth Hoffman said...

Your reviews are always so beautifully written!

Laurie C said...

I recently read The Lola Quartet too, and thought it was very good.