Monday, October 28, 2013

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

They were the Lola Quartet, a group of Florida high school seniors who came together  to make music.  Their futures were bright as they finished their high school careers before venturing out into the world.  Gavin is planning to escape the heat of Florida to his dream city of New York City to pursue journalism.  Sasha is planning a life of books as she pursues a degree in literature.  Daniel is planning a career in house construction.  Jack, the best musician of them all, is taking his talent to college for a music degree.  Then there is Anna, Gavin's girlfriend and Sasha's sister,  who is always around on the periphery, kind of a wild child who will be staying behind for another year.

Ten years later, the dreams have not materialized.  Gavin is a newspaper reporter until he commits a professional error that can't be forgiven and loses his job.  Jack is mired in drug addiction.  Daniel is now a policeman while Sasha is a waitress in an all night diner, recovering from out of control gambling.  No one is really sure what happened to Anna, who disappeared after that summer.  Some said she went to live with an aunt, some say she went out west, but no one is really sure exactly where she is or what happened to her.

All four are back in their small Florida town.  Gavin's sister finds a picture in a house she is viewing in her role as a real estate agent.  The little girl in the picture looks exactly like she and Gavin, and when she asks, the woman keeping the girl says her name is Chloe Montgomery.  Montgomery is Anna's last name.  Did Anna have Gavin's baby a decade ago without telling him?

This discovery fuels the rest of the novel.  Gavin is determined to find Anna and Chloe to make sure they don't need anything from him.  Daniel and Jack seem to know parts of the story, maybe even where Anna is, but won't tell him.  Jack is too caught up in his drug dreams, while Daniel seems hostile.  When Gavin finds Sasha, she starts to give him bits and pieces as he uses his investigative skills to extract the story of what happened all those years ago.  Gavin's investigation puts a deadly plan in place, as it is misinterpreted by the players as a danger to the secret they've all been hiding for a decade.

Mandel has written a novel that explores the way life turns out so differently from what we had planned and expected as young adults.  Dreams don't always come true, but there is comfort in ordinary lives as well.  Early ties can turn into adult relationships that can provide sustenance, both material and emotional.  Her strength is character development, and the reader inhabits the lives of all the main characters, understanding the motives that drive their actions and hoping for satisfactory resolutions.  This book is recommended to readers of literary fiction and those interested in how lives twist and turn as we constantly reinvent ourselves.

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