The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel is another of those novels I picked up because something about the title and the cover (there I go again, initially judging a book by its cover) intrigued me. It turned out to be a pleasure to read – a well-paced mystery exploring all those complicated issues surrounding the juxtaposition of who we are compared to who we thought we’d become.
The novel is named for a high school jazz quartet consisting of most of the novel’s central characters, who are pulled back together years later by a dangerous coincidence. Gavin Sasaki is a fedora-sporting, noir-loving, soon-to-be disgraced journalist on an assignment in his Florida home town when his sister informs him that she has come across a young girl who looked exactly like she did when she was that age. They suddenly both wonder what became of Anna, his high school girl friend, who seemed to vanish after his senior year of high school, right before he moved to New York. The picture his sister takes of the eerily familiar-looking child leads to an unforeseeable chain of events as the mystery slowly unravels.
We spend a little time with each of the main characters: the members of the original quartet, and Anna. The story also shifts between past and present, giving us glimpses into how each came to be living a life so far from their youthful, hopeful renderings of the future.
He stopped halfway to look up at the sky. He’d been reading about constelations recently, and had fallen particularly in love with the North Star. It always took him some time to find it in the haze of the streetlight, but there it was. True north, the direction of his second life, New York. He felt in those days that he was always on the edge of something, always waiting, his life about to begin.
Everyone seems to be in some state of flux – and none of their lives have turned out remotely as they’d imagined. Their self-imposed isolation and loneliness doggs them all in varying ways, but they also manage to find solutions to their stases – although whether or not they are good solutions is up for debate. Nevertheless, the novel manages to end on a hopeful note.
I also had the good fortune to meet the adorable Ms. Mandel yesterday evening at Left Bank Books, one of my favorite local bookstores! It was not the largest turnout, but the four of us managed to have a nice time sitting in a circle, chatting about the novel, writing, and musing about life in general. Meet the author events always seem to have a certain level of awkwardness (or, perhaps it’s just me that’s awkward!), but this one felt more intimate, like a new book club getting off the ground. At any rate, I highly recommend both reading The Lola Quartet and meeting the warm and unassuming Emily St. John Mandel if you get the chance. I’ve already picked up a copy of her second novel, The Singer’s Gun, and hope it won’t remain in my substantial TBR pile for too long.