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Book Review: Lola, California

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The California of Our Mind

Book Review:

Lola, California
by Edie Meidav

Paperback publication date: August 7, 2012
Picador
448 pages
$15.00

by Joel Drucker

The newly-released paperback edition of Lola, California is a powerful, innovative and lyrical American novel. To read it is to enter a rich territory -- the landscape of memory and choice. Author Edie Meidav previously explored this mega-topic in Crawlspace, a tale of a former Vichy administrator returning to his hometown.

Lola, California takes place largely in Berkeley. Once upon a time after the '60s, hotspot venues such as Berkeley were one of many ground zeroes for a brave new world of ideas and options. Convention had been blown apart by assassinations, war, political corruption and social movements. Now what? In the vacuum came a deregulated tornado of new ideas from all sorts of disciplines, self-appointed experts and disparate followers.

The book's male protagonist, Vic Mahler, was one such catalyst. Philosopher and scientist, poet and prophet, Mahler inspired the kind of cult following quiet common in the '70s and '80s in places like Berkeley: "It may be the Berkeley of the '80s but it remains the Berkeley where no household lacks its copy of Gibran's The Prophet ... the prophet matters in Berkeley, a place where no one has breakdowns because the idea of a breakdown simply does not exist. Instead people go into periods of healing and newly outfitted jargon."

As Vic engaged with his flock, his daughter Lana came of age with a dear friend named Rose, forming their own binary relationship, the rites of a passage of mildly-privileged American teenagers set against a world of New Age argot: "Using their false names, Lola One and Two, they most often call their dance the Lola flow ... the rules stay simple: you close your eyes and life will toss up what it wants."

What it wants or what we want? While Vic makes a choice of massive consequences, there are other choices made by Lana and Rose that drive the plot into its various twists. Life, love, work all figure into the story.

But hang on: Lola, California is no linear tale. "Sometimes you open a suitcase and glimpse a ghost leaving," writes Meidav, "your hopes for this journey or your past journeys, all the beings you have traveled with."

Lola, California's vast power comes from its structure, from the way Meidav constantly jump cuts across time, through decades of occurrences, interactions and a lattice-like evocation of Califoria north, south -- and perhaps, just perhaps, by extension, the very notion of the American Dream. Writing about Los Angeles, Meidav notes that "no one in that town ever admits to hardship since everyone wishes to be a recipient of grace." Might LA be a proxy for America?

For in other ways Lola, California brings to life the American Nightmare. Early on, we learn that Vic is on death row. Estranged from her father, Lana is in disarray, sorting through her romantic choices. Rose is an attorney, her professional status the pretense for connection with Vic, concerned less with Vic's legal salvation than with a more transcendent degree of redemption: "Keeping up a relationship with a condemned man is beautifully asymmetrical as burlesque, an offer of freedom sans future, while also binding her by restoring the past."

In the spirit of such novels as William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom, this is more than a novel about a time and place. In Lola, California we are in the realm of history as process. "Footfalls echo in the memory," writes T.S. Eliot in "Burnt Norton," "down the passage which we did not take/Towards the door we never opened." Lola, California implicates the reader in one door after another. The book's relentless and engaging leaps across time and place -- Death Row, adolescents frolicking in Berkeley, Vic's cult, Lana's anguish -- engage one in the quest to understand these characters, the choices and actions they have taken and the places life has led them to. Berkeley's New Age World, the aftermath of the '60s, families and children who become adults are all richly-evoked in this kaleidoscopic novel -- all pointing to an even bigger question. How do we become who we become? We make our choices -- and then our choices make us. Gulp.