Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Report: Lola

9. Melissa Scrivner Love, Lola (2017) (5/31/18)

I had high hopes for this book, based partly on the enthusiastic Bookshop Santa Cruz shelf-tag recommendation, partly on the cover blurbs: "One of the best[-]written crime dramas to be published in quite some time" (AP); "Achingly beautiful . . . Scrivner Love does better than Stieg Larsson" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel); "An act of literary magic . . . a gritty, tightly plotted masterpiece" (LA Weekly); "An unbelievably smart mystery" (Newsweek); "Stunning . . . Love has created a fully fleshed-out and uniquely compelling antihero" (Publishers Weekly).

It starts out well enough—set in the barrio of Huntington Park, the "South Central" of Los Angeles, and concerning a very small gang known as the Crenshaw Six . . . which, we soon learn, is fronted not by the usual man, but by small, fierce, fearless Lola. Who, as the story gets going, receives a death threat from a rival gang, and a couple of options to remove said threat.

But as the story progresses, the pace slackens, the characters become more and more cardboard-like, the double-crosses and loyalties and retributions more convoluted, and the nagging theme of "how many hours until she dies?" more tedious, until, frankly, I just didn't care.

But I did finish, just in case there was some sort of redemption (not really) and to be able to post a report here. Because, fifty.

Certain themes did emerge: the wreckage caused by heroin; dingy linoleum floors; doll houses; barbecues; beauty products; women in control; obedience; family; fox hunting (kidding, but not). I rarely got a clear idea of place—save kitchens with their impossible floors—or of what most people looked like, except all the Mexican American women and girls seemed to have long straight shiny black hair.

Mostly, I found the worldview sour and cynical and clichéd, as in this description of a Westside fitness center:
Lucy [a five-year-old whom Lola saves from her junkie mother] slips her hand into Lola's. Together, they exit the locker room, leaving behind the blow-dryers and the bad news. They pass the cardio machines and the skeleton women doing endless mindless reps of bicep curls and squats in front of the inescapable mirrors. See your flaws. Fix your flaws. They stride by the café where hungry ladies salivate at the turkey burgers and opt instead for salads with dressing on the side. Together, Lola and Lucy push open the glass doors of this training academy for trophy wives, a factory in its own right. Perhaps it's better to be raised in the ghetto, away from this sweatshop of a different color.
The book, I learned in a review, started out as a TV pilot (Scrivner Love works primarily as a screenwriter), and it feels like it. A sequel made its way to her agent a year ago. If it gets published, I will be skipping it.

P.S. My opinion may be somewhat shaded by the delightfully rich and complex House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea, also about Mexican Americans, in San Diego. The stories are different, of course, Lola being plot driven, House about relationship. But if you want a story about real people, not stick figures, try House. You won't regret it. 

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