Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All About Lulu / by Jonathan Evison

Born in California in 1968 but raised in rural Washington state, Jonathan Evison left home as soon as he could. He drifted to San Francisco he tried reliving the city's bygone hippie era with "all the other alcoholic misfits" before realizing it was a losing effort. Ultimately he engendered himself to the burgeoning punk rock scene in Seattle where he helped found the band "March of Crimes", a group which headlined several future members of bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Getting out of the music business in the late nineties, Evison worked several odd jobs before taking up writing fiction, gigs which including disc jockey and telemarketer among other things. A fervent devotee to social networking during it's earliest days, Evison was among the first to credit the online tool--Myspace in particular--as a key component of his literary success--he "cold-clicked" several hundred people whose profiles had James Joyce as their favorite author. His first novel All About Lulu, though a largely different story altogether, vaguely rehashes his own coming of age experiences through the eyes of a young dilettante.

In the wake of his mother's death from cancer in the early 1970's, young Will Miller must find a way to cope with his grief. His father and younger twin brothers already have their outlet--bodybuilding. Will's father, Big Bill, is actually on the professional circuit and a regular at their local Southern California hotspot, "Muscle Beach". And while Big Bill's good enough to place high in the rankings, he's not quite stellar enough to win first prize, always losing out to more pedigreed competitors like Arnold Schwartzenegger. Will's no bodybuilder, not even much of an athlete at all. In fact by the age of 12, he's become a vegetarian and is more interested in music than muscles. When Big Bill remarries, Will gets a new mom, Willow, a stepsister named Lulu and the first love of his life. Lulu's not only smart and beautiful, she likes Will for who he is and by the end of their first year of high school, the pair are dating. But after a summer spent in Vermont with relatives, Lulu comes back different. Isolated and moody, she starts to push Will away, begins dating other guys and ultimately leaves the family altogether to live in Seattle. These circumstances may have ended the relationship but not Will's fixation. For him, Lulu, even though she's just a friend now a thousand miles away, is the only reason to breathe. Slogging his way through the rest of high school as a mediocre student and fast food employee, he ultimately turns to philosophy for consolation, developing a taste for the works of Descartes, Kant, Hume and Kierkegaard as he begins a haphazard path to higher education at the local community college. The years pass by but Will's compulsion towards his life's only love never wains.

Though the level of writing would deem it worthy of adult literature, All About Lulu reads like a lot of YA books, even bearing a striking resemblance to one or two notable ones. It's a work which well characterizes the big events in the lives of young people which can remain just that, a big deal, long after adolescence, denoting that there are just some things in life, first loves among them, which don't diminish with age. Stories like these come with a lot of heavy-hearted delineations and morbid self-analysis, consequently there's a lot of irritating narcissistic qualities about the protagonist. Much like the archetypal love-scarred male adolescent, see Goethe's 18th century novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (FIC GOETHE), Will's emotional reach may touch others (his father, brothers, friends, etc.) but most of him is simply incapable of empathizing with much beyond his own afflicted feelings. This isn't a major fault but it does kind of limit the scope of the book and lend a distorted view to the other characters. In an odd way, especially seen in retrospect, Lulu herself seems to accommodate Will's passionate longing, and while not exactly reciprocating his advances, she's at least tolerable of them in amiable, even affectionate fashion--maybe not a typical reaction but you could argue that it keeps the story moving. Evison followed up this award-winning effort with West of Here, currently a bestseller about the history and heritage of Washington's Olympic peninsula. (FIC EVISON)

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