- The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Unbridled Books (May 15, 2012)
- ISBN-13: 978-1609530792
Who and what is the book about (back-of-the-book blurb): Disgraced and fired from his newspaper job, a young man returns to the Florida town of his youth to begin searching for a daughter he has only recently learned may exist and who may be at considerable risk.
Where and when does it take place: The Lola Quartet takes place in 2009. The timing is important – after 9/11, after the economic collapse of the late 2000s. Most of the novel is set in Sebastian, a sprawling town on the east coast of Florida. This is the town in which Gavin Sasaki was raised, where he attended high school and played in “The Lola Quartet” with Jack, Taylor, and Sasha. Other scenes take place in Utah, South Carolina, and Manhattan.
What would I say to a friend who asked me about it: What starts out as a story about a guy wallowing in self-pity and making poor decisions turns into a bigger story about the poor decisions we all make — and leaves us thinking about the “connectedness” we have to each other and to the world around us, while at the same time wondering what we might have done when faced with similarly difficult circumstances.
Gavin Sasaki can’t wait to leave the heat and humidity of Florida behind him when he finishes high school. His girlfriend, a year younger than Gavin, has disappeared at the end of his senior year, but he gives that barely a passing thought. Anna had had a troubled past; she’s probably run away again.
Fast forward ten years to when Gavin is in trouble. His heady years of j-school and writing for a second-string newspaper come to a halt as his personal and professional life deteriorate. Returning to Florida to stay with his sister Eilo for a while, Gavin soons learns something that will set him on a quest to track down Anna and get the answers to what happened to her all those years ago.
In the process, he uncovers much more than he expected; The Lola Quartet is a “literary thriller” – striking prose that kept me on the edge of my seat.
Why did I read it: This book was sent to me for review consideration. I’ve read each of Emily St. John Mandel’s novels, and have appreciated them all – I never know what to expect with her writing (there is no “formula”) and she has a particular way of capturing the innocence and vulnerability of children.
A few favorite passages: I liked this one simply because of its reference to books (p. 191):
Sasha was raised on stories of brave children entering magical countries. Narnia was behind the coats in a wardrobe. Alice fell down the rabbit hole.
And from the same page, a line which could be a theme for the novel:
“Once you step into the underworld it’s hard to come out again,”
This refers to suburban sprawl, the supposed anonymity granted there, and nods to the concerns about humans pushing animals out of their habitats (p. 157):
… it had occurred to Gavin that what he thought of as wilderness might just be a band of wildly lush greenery with another suburb approaching undetected from the other side, like two teams of miners tunneling toward one another under the earth.
What else can I add: I did submit an IndieNext recommendation for The Lola Quartet, as follows:
“How far would you go for someone you love?” asks The Lola Quartet. That “someone” might be a lover, child, sibling, friend, or a pill – or other thrill – that substitutes for human love. In her careful, suspense-building novel, Emily St. John Mandel explores this question as she follows the unexpected turns and criss-crossing paths members of a high school jazz group have taken over the past decade. She shows us that answer is unknowable, until we’re faced with making the ultimate sacrifice. Mandel will have every reading wondering, “what would I have done?”