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Book Cover Image: The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John MandelTitle: The Lola Quartet
Author: Emily St. John Mandel
ISBN: 9781609530792
No. of Pages: 379
Genre: Fiction

“Gavin Sasaki is a promising young journalist in New York City, until hes fired in disgrace following a series of unforgivable lapses in his work. Its early 2009, and the world has gone dark very quickly; the economic collapse has turned an era that magazine headlines once heralded as the second gilded age into something that more closely resembles the Great Depression. The last thing Gavin wants to do is return to his hometown of Sebastian, Florida, but hes drifting toward bankruptcy and is in no position to refuse when hes offered a job by his sister, Eilo, a real estate broker who deals in foreclosed homes.

Eilo recently paid a visit to a home that had a ten-year-old child in it, a child who looks very much like Gavin and who has the same last name as Gavins high school girlfriend Anna, whom Gavin last saw a decade ago. Gavin—a former jazz musician, a reluctant broker of foreclosed properties, obsessed with film noir and private detectives—begins his own private investigation in an effort to track down Anna and their apparent daughter who have been on the run all these years from a drug dealer from whom Anna stole $121,000.

In her most ambitious novel yet, Emily Mandel combines her most fully realized characters with perhaps her most fully developed story that examines the difficulty of being the person you’d like to be, loss, the way a small and innocent action (e.g., taking a picture of a girl in a foreclosed house) can have disastrous consequences. The Lola Quartet is a work that pays homage to literary noir, is concerned with jazz, Django Reinhardt, economic collapse, love, Floridas exotic wildlife problem, crushing tropical heat, the leavening of the contemporary world, compulsive gambling, and the unreliability of memory.”

Thoughts: Emily St. John Mandel’s The Lola Quartet is an expose of sorts that focuses on a group of four high school friends and how their life turns out ten years after graduation. This is not one of those stories where the unpopular kid becomes wealthy and all of the jocks and cheerleaders get their comeuppance. Rather, these four continue to struggle and exist to survive rather than thrive. It is as depressing as it sounds.

There are several issues with The Lola Quartet to prevent one from enjoying it fully. For one, the characters are flat and uninspiring. All of them, including Gavin as the main character, remain one-dimensional and fail to learn anything throughout the novel. Every one of them justifies their actions with the weakest of excuses. This does not endear any of the characters to the reader, although that is not necessary for one’s overall enjoyment of a novel.

Even though she is at the heart of the novel, driving every character’s actions from almost the opening chapter, very little is actually learned about Anna and her reasons for leaving Gavin and hiding her pregnancy from him. A reader never truly understands Anna nor is able to get into her mind to be able to sympathize with her, and yet, she has a profound influence on the rest of the characters. Unfortunately, the story is not helped by keeping Anna this mysterious force and only continues to limp along under the premise that readers will accept without proof that everyone falls in love with Anna and is willing to risk their life for her. It is a premise that will not sit well with discerning readers.

The other issue with The Lola Quartet is the fact that the story itself is uninspiring and predictable. The reader can hypothesize with accuracy how the story will end almost from the very beginning. None of the characters are in danger, creating no tension that compels one to keep reading. Combined with the insipid characters, The Lola Quartet becomes rather forgettable.

The Lola Quartet is an adequate story but not an exciting one. As such, a reader will never be truly able to become completely immersed in this tepid story about actions, their long-term consequences, and the journey that is life. With so many outstanding novels being released in the next few months, The Lola Quartet just cannot compete.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to NetGalley and to Alexa Villanueva from Unbridled Books for my review copy!

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