The Lola Quartet by the immensely talented Emily St. John Mandel, might go down as one of the best captures of the malaise that attended the Great Recession of 2008. As St. John Mandelís earlier novel, The Singerís Gun, proved, she has a special talent for setting the mood and tone in a novel. She works that same magic here in a story that essentially is, above all else, the rootlessness of young adult life.
Gavin Sasaki is a young journalist in New York City at precisely the time when the newspaper industry is in deep decline. The axe has been falling on co-workers all around him. When he eventually gets found out for lies he has been systematically working into his stories, Gavin knows that he too is on his last leg. Fired ingloriously from his job, Gavinís last resort is to return to his hometown in Florida, where his sister, Eilo, runs a successful business negotiating the final sales of foreclosed homes.
Back in Florida, shortly after the sale of one such foreclosed home, Eilo happens to have taken a picture of a young girl who bears a striking resemblance to Gavin. This one picture brings back a whole host of memories for him. Gavin remembers his high school girlfriend, Anna Montgomery, and a rumor that she might have been pregnant before permanently moving away to be with her aunt in Georgia. Could this little girl whom Eilo spotted be his child? Armed with his journalistís nose to sniff out a good story, Gavin is determined to find out. The problem is that many in town donít share Gavinís enthusiasm to ferret out the truth.
It turns out that Anna is in deep trouble having stolen a large sum of money from a drug dealer in Utah. She is on the run with help from a few of Gavinís old high school friends. The chain of events that will eventually lead to murder all begins with one ill-timed photograph. Each person involved in the story reads that action differently and acts with the information he or she has. If thereís one problem in The Lola Quartet, it is that it gets hard to believe that so many men go to such extraordinary lengths to protect Anna. All in all, though, the book is an incredibly taut sequence of events told breathlessly in the style that St. John Mandel has effectively mastered. That The Lola Quartet also shines light on lifeís early disillusionments is a bonus.
The Lola Quartet is also about the plod that attends daily life after high school, about dreams and dashed expectations. In one beautifully realized scene, a guitar hopeful from Gavinís old high school worries that he is not all that great and eventually just retreats back home to drugs and a mundane existence. ďI miss everything about high school and Iím not the musician I thought I was, I donít know what Iím doing anymore, jazz has always been my life but now itís slipping away from me and my talent isnít going to be enough,Ē he worries. Any young adult who bumbles into college and life beyond can totally relate to the cast of characters St. John Mandel sets out so beautifully in her new novel.
ďThe truth is we donít all turn into the men we had hoped to become,Ē says a character in the book. As The Lola Quartet wonderfully shows, this much is certainly true. Of course, things get even more dangerous when there is no clear plan sketched outóeven for what you hope to become. As each one of the characters in The Lola Quartet realizes, when all one does is drift, the eventual stagnation that sets in can be stifling and merciless.