“The Lola Quartet” refers to the musical group created by four of the five principal protagonists when they were students at a high school for the performing arts. Gavin, Daniel, Jack, and Sasha were the members of The Lola Quartet. The fifth student, Anna, a year younger than the others, was the sister of one of the members and girlfriend of at least one of the others. The story tells what happened to them in the subsequent ten years by weaving back and forth in time, gradually exposing the meaning and consequences of the puzzling scene in the opening chapter.
Discussion: In spite of being talented students at a magnet school, the five main characters of this book all turned out to be colossal losers. Ten years later, one is a publicly-disgraced mendacious reporter, one a wasted drug addict, one a wasted gambling addict, one a washed-up, twice-divorced cop, and one a drop-out and thief. What are the odds? It seemed a bit unlikely to me. In any event, we never really find out why that happened.
But even if one accepts that set-up, there is more that just didn’t ring true for me. Gavin and Anna were dating in high school and presumably spent all their spare time together, yet in the last two weeks of school, Gavin didn’t see Anna; had no idea where she was; nor any idea why they were incommunicado. Furthermore, when she abruptly left town, he made only a few minor efforts to reach her or find out where she went and why, even after, and in spite of, hearing rumors she was pregnant when she left! (And Gavin isn’t even the one who was drug-addled!)
As for Anna, we are never let in on her motivations, especially about why she felt she had to distance herself from Gavin. In addition, we learn of at least two subsequent unhappy break-ups of hers after Gavin, and though rather central to the plot, we get not a word as to what caused them either.
So Anna remains a cipher, which means to me that (a) her purpose is to show who the other characters are by how they react to her; or (b) she is left enigmatic as part of the noir atmosphere of the book. I could almost believe (a) except we really don’t learn enough about the other characters, save for Gavin (and him only superficially), to support that argument. So I am assuming (b) to be the case, which reminds me why I don’t like noir….
(More broadly, all the information we don’t get may have been a meta referential plot device to point up the annoying way in which none of the characters fully and honestly communicate with one another. Even if that is the case, I don’t think it added to the appeal of the book.)
And then there is the ending, in which two of these five very damaged individuals decide they are somehow qualified to pass judgment on the other three about their moral rectitude (or lack thereof). It just doesn’t seem realistic to me.
One final complaint: There is some very pretty writing in this book, but to me it felt a bit too much like the result of a writing workshop. It definitely has a cinematic, sparse, noir feel, but the regular inclusion of stylistic flourishes at the end of paragraphs and chapters seemed too consciously constructed.
“He stared unseeing out the window into white.”
“Gavin walked back out into the heat with his fedora in his hands.”
“He drifted alone in his lawn chair on the grass.”
Evaluation: This book has gotten very good reviews, but I wasn’t as enamored with it as most reviewers. I thought there were too many holes in the plot, and too much that didn’t make sense to me. I also felt a bit too aware of a writer plying her craft, rather than being immersed in the story in a way that fully transported me.
Published by Unbridled Books, 2012