INDIE DEBUT Book of the Month...
"FIRST, I'M GOING to give you all the Copperfield crap, and I'm not going to apologize for any of it, not one paragraph..."
So begins ALL ABOUT LULU (Soft Skull Press), Jonathan Evison's debut novel which, in the end, is less about Lulu and more about Will Miller, a myopic, vegetarian misfit growing up in 1970s Southern California in a motherless household of meat-eating body-builders. After his mother dies from cancer, Will stops talking. It isn't until his father remarries Willow, a grief counselor, that he again finds his voice. And only because part of the step-mom package includes new step-sister Louisa Trudeau.
And thus begins the obsession that sends Will into his future. He chronicles his day- and night- fantasies of Lulu's "Mr. Potato Head" beauty in the Lulu notebooks.
"You could string adjectives like daisy chains and not describe Lulu. Verbs came closer: soaring, crashing, yearning, laughing, dreaming, kissing. But metaphors came closest: Lulu was a white-hearted starburst, a silver-crested wave. Lulu was the sound electricity makes."
She returns his affections; the two become inseparable, developing their own secret language of blinks and squints, their shared vegetarianism a rebellious, unified front in an unusual family.
But when Lulu goes away during high school to cheerleading camp in Vermont, everything changes. The rest of the story follows Will in his desire to understand and regain the elusive, troubled Lulu. More than a love story, ALL ABOUT LULU also is a coming-of-age tale about the devastating impact of family secrets.
ALL ABOUT LULU is poignant, sad, and funny as hell. Through Will, Evison tells his story with wit and verve, using more metaphor than is probably politically correct. Facinating characters, and a keen inisght into the world of Mr. Olympia-style body building. Indeed, it is in scenes such as when Will slicks his father's torso with oil before competition that Evison's prose soars. Southern California itself is a character; Evison knows his setting - and time - well. A few places felt like filler: the college papers on 'Old Hume' and other philosophers used to plumb Will's search for truth; the quixotic hot dog stand business on Venice Beach; the cat that haunts his apartment building. The book has the best 'epilogue' I've ever read; enigmatic and bittersweet.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR... In his own words, JONATHAN EVISON likes rabbits. His work has appeared in the Portland Review, Orchid, Knock, Opium, Quick Fiction, and other journals. ALL ABOUT LULU is his first novel. He has worked as a syndicated talk radio host, a rotten tomato sorter, a telemarketer, and a script doctor. He is the founder and moderator of the FICTION FILES, a forum for literary discussion.
ABOUT THE PRESS... "Thoughtful, critical, committed to expounding an openly manifold perspective toward all modern life, these and other releases by Soft Skull endorse a new, enlightened way of looking at society. Harsh politics and inspired fiction aside, in a nation that starves for real reality, Soft Skull Press has solidly grounded, daringly provocative food for the brain." (Willamette Week)
SOFT SKULL PRESS is a NYC-based independent press with a diverse portfolio of edgy, alternative stuff, including poetry and memoir and fiction imbued with a potent dose of political and social rebellion. I heart this press, I buy a lot of their books because they're great books and because I'd like to see SOFT SKULL imprinted on the spine of my own novels. Two recent SSP fabulous reads that skirt the issue of mental health include GONE AND BACK AGAIN by Baltimore's own Jonathan Scott Fuqua, and Lydia Millett's EVERYONE'S PRETTY.
--THREE GUYS ONE BOOK
--SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
BUY ALL ABOUT LULU - AND ENJOY. And tune in hump-day in March for my third debut/small press review, tbd.