Review: All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison
Author: Jonathan Evison
Published: July 2008 by Soft Skull Press, 340 pages
First Line: “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 if you’re not interested in how I came to see the future, or how I came to understand that the biggest truth in my life was a lie, or, for that matter, how I parlayed my distaste for hot dogs into an ’84 RX-7 and a new self-concept, do us both a favor, and just stop now.”
Genre/Rating: Literary fiction; 4/5 mountains of mashed potatoes erupting baked-bean lava onto the plate of the girl you love
Review: I’d been wanting to read something from Soft Skull Press for a while – they have a very interesting catalog, plus how can you resist a publisher with a name like that? – but unfortunately, my library isn’t the best about stocking indie lit. I went back and forth from the Soft Skull website to my library’s website, and finally, one was there! I was very pleased. Luckily, it was this one, because it was good.
Will Miller is an outcast in his own family – his father (Big Bill) is a bodybuilder, his younger twin brothers are his father’s spitting image (and seem to share a brain between them) and his mother (his only ally) dies when he is very young. He drifts along, not fitting in anywhere, even refusing to eat meat (causing his father to almost explode: “…meat is good for you…you have to eat meat to grow. How do you think cows got so big?”) Once his mother passes away, his voice changes early in life, and he stops talking much – saying maybe ten words a day.
Until Lulu enters his life, and he finds his raison d’être.
Lulu is his new stepsister, as his father remarries his grief counselor. Will finds his voice again. He and Lulu form a bond almost immediately, and he falls head-over-heels in love with everything Lulu. He starts to keep a journal – “All About Lulu” – chronicling everything she says and does, interpreting everything, down to every small gesture, every word. They have a secret language, an understanding, it is the two of them against the world, and they agree that, because they are not related, once they are old enough, they will marry, and travel the world together…until, with no explanation, everything changes.
The book follows Will and Lulu (and their family – Big Bill, the twins Doug and Ross, mother/stepmother Willow, and their friends, each more colorful than the last) from age eight to their early twenties. It starts in the late seventies (which made me happy – Will was only a few years older than I am, and I loved the setting, because it brought back a lot of memories of my childhood). The characters are well-written and truly three-dimensional (especially, surprisingly, the secondary characters – I couldn’t get enough of Will’s landlord and friend, Eugene Gobernecki, with his American dream and his broken English, who somehow managed to not become a cliché and was a joy to read about.)
The only thing that caused me to rate it just a little less than I might have was that I somehow didn’t quite believe Will and Lulu’s relationship. I believed them separately; however, when they were together, it rang false. Something about their relationship seemed just a bit forced, just trying just a little bit too hard. Will was just a little bit too precocious when dealing with his feelings for her. Lulu was just a little bit too Girl on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown. And once the Very Big Mystery (yes, this is a book with a Very Big Mystery) came out (I’d guessed it about a third of the way in, rendering it…well, I guess, a Not-Very-Well-Disguised-Secret, more than anything) it was anticlimactic and also quite confusing as to why it would have made them act the way they did.
(And in news of the petty, this was the book that caused me to tweet this tweet. I know. I KNOW. You can’t catch ALL the typos in a book. But things like this pull me out of the action.)
Was just reading a book where someone got in a “grizzly” accident. I was like, “what? How’d I miss the entrance of bears? Oh, it’s a typo.”
— Amy (@lucysfootball) July 16, 2012
But these are, honestly, minor things in a book that works this well. Read it for the characters; suspend your disbelief just a little tiny bit about the plot. I think that’ll work just fine. It’s worth it.