2014’s Station Eleven captivated me with its story of life after a pandemic flu caused the collapse of society, and The Lola Quartet, an earlier novel by the same author, shares many of Station Eleven’s story elements, including a life during crisis theme, though here the disasters are on a smaller scale.
Gavin is unsettled by the news that he may have fathered a daughter by a troubled high school girlfriend who disappeared–so unsettled he makes mistakes that sabotage his NYC career as a reporter, though print journalism is in its death throes anyway and his paper shut down not long after he was fired. He moves back to Florida because an economic crash similar to (or the same as) the one of 2007-2008 has created a job opportunity for him with his sister, whose work involves foreclosing on homes–she has to use a punching bag to work off the stress. In his free time Gavin uses his investigative skills to try to find his old girlfriend and his daughter.
It’s a fraught enterprise, and he’s warned off it at every turn, but locating his missing daughter is not something Gavin can let go of. In the process he reconnects with the other members of his high school jazz quartet–his girlfriend’s half-sister was the drummer–but everyone’s life has changed drastically since the almost magical evening of their final concert outdoors on the back of a truck, and no one seems able or willing to help him.
As in Station Eleven there are several third person narrators, the writing is beautiful and evocative, and the story is riveting, moving, and complex. Both novels unfold while shifting back and forth in time, revealing information slowly–a technique that irritates me in some books, but author Emily St. John Mandel makes it feel artful. Though The Lola Quartet doesn’t involve the almost total disintegration of civilization, strangely it’s a darker, less hopeful tale than Station Eleven, with moral dilemmas and needless but inevitable tragedy giving it an uncompromising, maybe noirish feel.