A Review: The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel
Who would you be if you didn’t have to be who you are?
The Lola Quartet is a novel of choices, those crucial, often crippling buggers that constitute our lives. Gavin Sasaki worked his way from a performing arts high school in Sebastian, Florida, to a prominent Manhattan newspaper. We meet him shortly after his fiancée has left him. When his apartment shower begins to leak, he chooses not to fix it. When he can’t get a good quote for his latest article—and is threatened by potential cutbacks—he chooses to make one up. With miraculous speed, Gavin loses everything.
Years before, Gavin’s high school girlfriend, Anna, pregnant and fearing intervention by the authorities, chose to flee Florida with another member of Gavin’s high school jazz band, the Lola Quartet.
These are the pinpricked moments in time that create the chaotic event chain in Emily St. John Mandel’s third novel. Unbridled Books, a small, sharp press of literary fiction, has marketed the book as a suspense novel, but don’t anticipate too many intakes of breath. Instead, Mandel draws a rich portrait of how the lives of the four members of the Lola Quartet—Gavin, Daniel, Jack, and Sasha, Anna’s half-sister—intertwine and how some (perhaps unadvisable) decisions reunite them.
After his journalistic indiscretion, Gavin returns to Florida, disgraced, in deep debt, and drunk on the recent knowledge that he probably has a child, his and Anna’s, out in the world. Some of the novel’s most authentic moments emerge when Gavin tries hazily to reconstruct the days before Anna’s high school disappearance:
He wondered, as he hung up the phone, if he’d always known that Anna was pregnant and had managed to block this fact from his mind in order to leave without guilt for New York. This idea was somewhat more than he could live with, and he felt himself slipping deeper into fog.
In Florida, Gavin seeks out the Lola Quartet members, reconnects with his sister, his mother, realizes how little he knows any of them, and his attempts to recover his discarded memories poignantly emphasize his present-day vagrancy. The novel’s underlying suspense emerges only from Mandel’s structure, a precarious weaving of nonlinear time and disparate locations. From this structure, wonder flows: did Gavin know about the baby? Why has Anna been on the lam for so long? How much do the other members of the Lola Quartet know?
No longer a journalist, possibly a father, Gavin returns to Florida an empty chrysalis. With grace and subtlety, the novel triumphs in its presentation of how he attempts to reconstruct a life; it makes me wonder how I—how anyone—might react if I released my ties … and to what I might return.
The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel
Unbridled Books, May 2012
ISBN: 9781609530792. 288 pp.