"When you get down to it, no one ever sees anyone truly," says Vic Mahler, former college professor/charismatic leader and current Death Row inmate. "Tell me I'm wrong." This fabulous follow-up to Meidav's "Crawl Space" plunges us headlong into the blind spot where loved ones lose sight of one another. Meidav is deeply wise about people, with an uncanny, near-clairvoyant empathy for a wild range of characters. Her forensics of the first love between two teenagers, the Lolas, will ring true to everyone who has ever visited the turbulent dreamland of California, or come of age in tandem with a best friend. Music pulses through every line of Meidav's seductive, feverishly beautiful novel.
The year is 2008, the place California. Vic Mahler, famous for inspiring a cult in the seventies, serves time on death row, now facing a countdown of ten days. For years, his daughter, Lana, has been in hiding, but her friend Rose, a lawyer, is determined to bring the two together. Yet when Rose finally discovers Lana at a California health spa, the pair must negotiate land mines of memory in order to reconcile the past and face their futures. A story infused with pathos and wit, insight and lyricism, Lola, California “matches metaphoric wit with an American state that defies summary…. A hypnotic and suspenseful tale, tightening toward an irresistible end” (Elizabeth Rosner, author of The Speed of Light).
"This gorgeous, audacious novel goes far beyond a story of two girls… Meidav is an American original.”—Anne Trubek, The Daily Beast
“A clock-ticking thriller and a maximal social novel.” —San Francisco Weekly
“Meidav captures the self-indulgence of adolescent friendship and the tension underlying familial bonds, languidly teasing out the surprising secrets of the past.” —The New Yorker
“In this intense and tumultuous tale, Meidav adeptly limns the dark and sinuous obsessions of friendship with penetrating insights.” —Booklist
“A psychedelic spiraled-out mystery.”—The Onion A.V. Club
“Edie Meidav makes sentences perform like a snake-charmer's snakes in this meditation on friendship, parenthood, and of course California.”
—Luc Sante, author of Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York
“Tears open the heart of friendship and the counterculture as well as the meaning of both, yesterday and today. A page-turner in the moment; a thought-provoker that lingers in the mind.” —Meredith Maran, author of A Theory of Small Earthquakes
“A meditation on the grand themes of motherhood, redemption, and choice… It’s both dreadful and awesome, brilliant… thought-provoking in its depiction of a dysfunctional family—indeed a dysfunctional American state.” —Publisher’s Weekly
“Edie Meidav treats the West Coast's counter-culture and the lives of young women with a rare steely regard, and does so in prose as faceted and illuminating as a flashing diamond. It's that artistry, and the wisdom of her novel, which makes the story's shocking conclusion all the more profound.” —Oscar Villalon
Edie Meidav is the author of The Far Field: A Novel of Ceylon and Crawl Space (FSG, 2005). Winner of a Lannan Fellowship, a Howard Fellowship, the Kafka Prize for Fiction by an American Woman, and the Bard Fiction Prize, she teaches at Bard College.
Elianna Kan/Picador publicity department:
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"In this artful, cerebral novel spanning four decades and encompassing the tribal conventions and counterculture movements of the 70's and 80's, the reader is plunged into a cunning world of philosophy and hedonism that is best described as baroque rawness or stark-naked grandiloquence. If these terms appear to be incompatible pairings, the reader will grasp the seeming polarity as axiomatic soon after feasting on Edie Meidav's complex narrative style. A carnal vapor infuses every provocative page of this unorthodox psychological crime thriller." - Betsey van Horn
"Edie Meidav's LOLA,CALIFORNIA captures an entire era of complex America, a swath of cultural time, with such amazing detail and crisp observation, even as she plumbs the depths of what it is to be a daughter, a friend, a profound searcher." – Bradford Morrow
"Meidav creates a true and beautiful picture of female friendship." - The Daily
From Booklist: "As teenagers in the 1970s, Lana and Rose were typical BFFs: joined at the hip, flowing goddesses high on groovitude. Daring each other, baring their secrets, they tried on different mantles of pseudo-adulthood, with Lana emerging the stronger personality, Rose her willing supplicant. At the core of it all were Vic, Lana’s father, a counterculture guru with a cultlike following, and her mother, Mary, an early feminist educator. Stressed by the increased demands of his notorious career, however, Vic’s temper explodes one day, and he murders Mary in a fit of professional and romantic jealousy. Swiftly convicted and sentenced to death row, Vic is abandoned by his daughter but not her friend."
From The Daily: "The premise of “Lola, California,” Edie Meidav’s third novel, is simple: A man, Vic Mahler, has killed his wife. He is sentenced to death for his crime and languishes in Alcatraz, waiting for his estranged daughter, Lana, to pay him a visit, and maybe even forgive him. Meidav teases out this bare-bones plot into a dense, expertly organized tale with some enlightening things to say about friendship, love and parenthood in post-’60s America.
The how and why of the murder in question are answered gradually, peppered throughout a meandering history of the Mahler family and of the people who orbit, transfixed, around it. Set in California beginning in the 1970s and ending in 2008, the story examines how Vic, a popular professor and leading liberal thinker in 1970s Berkeley, became a person who murdered his wife. Betraying his only child, Lana, with his crime, Vic somehow remains in the good graces of his daughter’s childhood best friend, Rose, who devotes some of her spare time to helping Vic obtain a stay of execution. But to get anywhere in the process, Rose needs Lana’s help. The friends have spent the two decades since their adolescence moving fitfully in and out of each other’s lives. Lana, skeptical, proud and defensive, is a stubborn aide, and understandably so: Her mother is dead. Will Rose get Lana to cooperate in time? It doesn’t really matter; the novel’s journey is more important than its destination, though Meidav does dangle a carrot by edging slowly, sometimes in hourly increments, up to the execution date.
What Meidav seems to be most interested in is creating a full picture, Henry James-style, of this family, and of Rose, who for all intents and purposes is part of the family (adopted by a single mother as a young girl, she treats Vic sort of like a father). Each character dissects a chapter or two of the family’s history, and they devote even more time to analyzing each other. This in-the-round presentation does not make for very light reading, partly because Vic is a zany, charismatic neurobiologist-turned-philosopher so beloved that his followers take to camping out on his front lawn. To varying degrees, his wife, Mary, Lana and Rose are followers, too, and even from behind prison walls, Vic wields his influence over Lana and Rose. His esoteric hippie-attracting ideas (“Endless hope remains for those of us who believe they have been locked into some dusty Freudian legerdemain,” he pronounces during one of his talks) are troubling, since, one skeptic reminds him, he is also a “tenure-track bourgeois professor” at Berkeley who owns a “vintage Porsche” and an “ivy-covered North Berkeley house.” More troubling for Lana, Vic sees his daughter as a kind of impressionable disciple, and both Vic and her mother treat her more as philosophical food for thought than as their child. At an end-of-semester party, for instance, Vic breaks down parenthood for a student: “The kid becomes your libido, yes. Something messy on the boulevards of life. Then you do what you can to contain the libido. Your swipes and smiles act as a tissue over the libido.” Lana is standing right there listening, but Vic just nods at her “politely as if she were a stranger, which she has become.” In other words, the Mahlers are not exactly model parents, and they are not all that fond of each other, either.
As that passage illustrates, the mood of the novel is dour. There is little in the way of humor or frivolity that is not framed as wistful retrospection. Indeed, anything that may be construed as fun, like teenage Lana and Rose singing Cuban songs topless while drinking their way through Vic’s wine collection, is shrouded in regret and sometimes worse. In the above case, Vic returns home from work early to catch Lana and Rose, chests barely covered by Mardi Gras beads, in the act. But instead of scurrying away in fatherly embarrassment or admonishing them for their underage drinking, Vic says how nice the light is, grabs his camera, and starts taking pictures of them. Creepy, or par for the course in free-thinking Berkeley? Either way, if we hadn’t been suspicious of Vic a hundred pages earlier, we certainly are now.
Such events pull us further into the story, since through all the nostalgia and philosophizing of now-adult Rose and Lana, we’re still looking to unravel the “how” of Mary’s murder, and it turns out that the Mahlers have several other secrets to tell us. Without revealing too much: Infidelity, mental illness, rape, abduction and suicide all come into play, and Meidav’s positioning of each of these events is no small feat. Her greatest gift in this novel is the element of surprise, which is a common trait among the best thriller writers but is more difficult to hatch in an artful social novel. Meidav creates a beautiful and true picture of female friendship, but as if that were not enough, she also keeps us guessing about who her characters really are, and how much weight their evaluations of each other actually hold.
Meidav has no interest in being a simple or straightforward writer, and it may take readers several chapters to get comfortable with her style. She is prone to complex metaphorical descriptions, especially when trying to build a picture of Rose and Lana’s relationship. At one point, Rose sneaks into a hotel room of Lana’s because she “needed to alphabetize some inner turbulence.” Elsewhere, Lana ruminates on nudity thusly: “people’s faces work to hold up new veils by the minute: the all-time favorite is dignity, as is the visage of sex-transcending enlightenment, a new kind of spiritual chastity armature.” Of course, we could blame Vic for all this verbosity, and the ideas trapped inside it are mostly good ones; they just take a longer pause to appreciate. Like any language, Meidav’s must be learned, but doing so is well worth the initial struggle."
Can an old friend carry in amber the person you were going to become?
In Northern California of the 1980s, two girlfriends commit crimes of a minor nature, Rose and Lana in full teenage glee.
Vic Mahler, Lana's father, is a cult leader, followed by shaggies who lose their lives in his pronouncements: he is not too large to follow some of his daughter Lana's teenage exploits.
Years later, Vic sits on death row, awaiting execution in two weeks, while Rose has tracked down Lana to a dusty desert spa. How the girls remember their past could affect Vic's fate. But can the lack of honesty they once had still set them free?
About CRAWL SPACE:
"In her new novel, Edie Meidav has created a vivid panorama of the modern world, refracted through an amazingly intricate character. The secrets of history, the unrequited loves and betrayals, the disgraces and disappointments and confusions-all are revived for Emile Poulquet, who, in trying to escape his past, runs headlong into the trap of memory and guilt. CRAWL SPACE is the work of a fearless writer with a cosmic imagination." -- Joanna Scott
"Meidav's novel demonstrates her considerable gifts as a stylist; there's not a false note in the prose, and those who relish fine writing, as well as anyone interested in history, will find much to admire in Crawl Space."
--Timothy Peters, San Francisco Chronicle
"A highly impressive and original treatment of the Holocaust; recommended for all literary and French history collections."
-- Edward Cone, Library Journal
"Meidav embeds the reader in the mind of a narcissistic, self-loathing, obsessive, vengeful narrator — a French Nazi collaborator — whose oddly compelling voice is the achievement of this complex novel (after The Far Field). With a tale both chilling and comical, Meidav considers the struggle to define history."
-- Publisher's Weekly
What Did You Do in the War, Emile?
(by the author of SCHINDLER'S LIST, in the WASHINGTON POST)
"Fifty years after the end of World War II, 84-year-old Emile Poulquet is standing trial in Paris for his part in the Nazi deportation of thousands of Jews and others from his native Bistronne region in the French Pyrenees.
Having escaped from Paris while on temporary release from prison, he recounts for us his return under the disguise of age and a certain amount of surgery to the town of his childhood and his crimes. He does so with little respect for the process that has finally picked him up and declared him a murderer for what he calls "satisfying the occupiers with numbers but retaining our France." He is, he says, "one more unjew jewed by history."
Such a fellow should not be good company for the substantial pilgrimage we undertake with him in Edie Meidav's troubling new novel, Crawl Space. But he is. He is quite a creation indeed, this aging anti-Quixote with his residual windmills to tilt at. For, like other men's, his destiny is not solely historic but created by personal issues as well -- a childhood facial deformation and a botched operation gave him his sneer of command, and both before and since childhood he has remained the emotional lackey of a woman named Arianne: "Arianne my cud, who tore my childhood's skin off and then danced over me." Secretly observing the visitors, Poulquet is happy to see that they too are uneasy with the artificiality of formal remembrance, or else with its inadequacy. He understands (and so of course does the author) that remembrance and punishment can never match the terrifying anomie that characterized the mass crimes of such functionaries as he was. By comparison with it, normal human outrage seems small and clichéd. Poulquet's contempt for his pursuers is based on this awareness of the contrast between his dispassion and their vulgar desire to punish him. It might have been tempting for a novelist to show Poulquet crumbling with guilt, self-accusation and awareness; the quality of his whimsical hauteur is not the least of Meidav's triumphs as a storyteller. "Now I am living in the era of experts about my era," he complains.
As true as it is that there were crimes, it is also true that only those who have been there fully understand their complexity. For example, Arianne's husband, the Resistance leader, at one stage of the war punished Vichy Prefect Poulquet for his deportation lists by stealing one and inserting the name of Poulquet's Jewish mistress and her mother. Poulquet found it impossible to save them from this sabotage and from the system's bureaucratic thoroughness. He also remembers he was not alone in his sins, recalling, from "before our true deportations began in the Bistronne, the plethora of folded letters which good citizens brought under cover of night and deposited in secrecy in my prefect's mailbox, speaking of this or that 'member of a spiritual community which has always been outside France.' "
By keeping to the shadows in his old town, pending his final meeting with Arianne, Poulquet mingles with a new generation of refugees, "the wastrels," homeless detritus of the New Europe, drifters from Paris and elsewhere. He finds himself a beneficiary of the company and tolerance of these "people sans-logements, sans-papiers, sans everything."
Ironically, before the novel's end, such folk will be the subject of a new cleansing of the homeless and rootless. "We wish for the moment before shame began," a young woman tells a journalist, suggesting that there are only two ineffectual remedies tormenting all the characters in this tale: amnesia and remembrance.
In her energy as a writer, Meidav floats so many issues, throws so many balls in the air, that she runs the risk of anti-climax. Can the final meeting with Arianne, for example, carry the weight Poulquet puts on it as he travels toward it? Some novelists have the capacity, the narrative goodwill and the generosity to override and allay such readerly qualms. In this accomplished novel, Meidav shows herself to be one of that happy company. Given how long we wait to read Poulquet's will and testament, it's a relief when its content is both sufficiently enlightening and cunning that it succeeds as a device."
-- Thomas Keneally, Washington Post
LOS ANGELES TIMES: THE SATURDAY READ:
HUMANITY AND INHUMANITY IN WWII
"One of the most hushed-up episodes of the German occupation of France came in July 1942, when Marshal Henri Philippe Petain's police rounded up more than 7,000 Jews, detaining them for five days without food or water in a Paris sports stadium. The Germans had specifically requested only able-bodied adults for the concentration camps, but many of these Auschwitz-bound victims were children. Pierre Laval, Petain's diabolical right-hand man, justified it, saying it
would be cruel to separate Jewish children from their families.
In her remarkable second novel, Edie Meidav revisits the French occupation and distills it into a heart-chilling tale of love and hate. Her villain is Emile Poulquet, a former Nazi collaborator and town prefect, who finds himself standing trial in Paris for signing the deportation notices of Jews 50 years earlier. Poulquet sees himself as a Laval-like patriot, "satisfying the occupiers with numbers but retaining our France," and a humble nationalist, "not spiritually superior, not intellectually superior, not even by the dint of the richness of French culture which has lifted our nation above all others...."
The case against Poulquet falls apart when Arianne, the widow of his old Resistance nemesis, Paul, refuses to identify him in court. During a temporary release from prison, the 84-year-old escapes and makes his way back to Finier, his childhood hometown in the Pyrenees, and a final reckoning with the last woman he would have expected to save him.
Poulquet encounters unexpected opposition the day he arrives in Finier. Arianne has organized a "refugees reunion" and the cafes are packed with themJews who survived his deportations, including the "reincarnated horror" of his former best friend, Izzy, whom he now views as "a Banal, Successful American Man." With nowhere to hide from those he had sent to concentration camps, Poulquet takes shelter with a callow crew of young wastrels, attracted to this remote region of France where a McDonald's recently was pillaged.
Poulquet has prepared his "last will and testament" to give Arianne, with whom he has been obsessed since boyhood, when he and Izzy worked as waiters at her family's hotel. It includes, among other things, a history of his own virulent anti-Semitism, almost as deep-seated and twisted as his relations with Arianne, whom he hopes to make executor of the will. To complicate matters, Arianne's deceased husband, Paul, turns out not to have been quite the Resistance hero she has portrayed him to be.
We learn that during the war, when Poulquet refused to hand over his deportation lists to the Resistance, Paul punished him by adding Poulquet's Jewish mistress' name to a list. Poulquet was unable to save Natalie from the bureaucratic machine, but even his affection for her comes drenched with lurid contempt: "Natalie was as much Salome as any Parisian whore, perhaps born with the perversity jewesses have long been known to bear, something like a primal script in Hebrew letters glowing cryptically within their very marrow, which must instruct their behavior."
"The Sorrow and the Pity," Marcel Ophuls' 1971 documentary film, was the first brilliant treatment of the disparate factions that animated the French occupation: Petainistes, members of the Resistance, Nazi-sympathizers and foreign diplomats all contributed interviews to a film that followed one town's experience. Meidav's novel illuminates this landscape with all the brilliant Technicolor that well-honed fiction has to offer. She dexterously manages her complex pageant of vandals, shopkeepers, collaborators, survivors and the journalists who have come to cover their return, and brings the story to a worthy climax.
But the enduring success of "Crawl Space" will be the creation of Poulquet: a morbid opportunist who artfully isolates his guilt with the lie that men are mere cogs in the wheel of history. "We all have some kind of right to belong to life," he entreats us, "even if our version of it ends up possessing a morality equivalent to that of a fishbowl: somewhat arbitrary, eminently replaceable and eternally transparent."
-- Thomas Meaney
From the opening of CRAWL SPACE:
"You think you know me and still my name slips away on your tongue. You've probably seen me countless times, but you never noticed. There has been surgery on my face, yes, to disguise me. Yet I live in your pile of clippings, I exist in your mind as a niggling question, a thing troubling your sleep certain nights. I understand your dilemma. You would not give it the importance of a dilemma but having been on your side, I understand how denial becomes an easier route."
Abe's Penny, Brooklyn-based literary journal distributed via postcards: 4-part piece published in conjunction with photography
"The Buddha of the Vedado", short story about Cuba, in fall issue of Conjunctions
"Cuba+Kids-Water" in upcoming issue of Zyzzyva
Interview with Leela Corman for The Millions
Hello from Queens, where I'm temporarily domiciled. You, too, may not be anywhere near San Francisco; you may know someone literate out there who likes the excuse for a literary outing, but whatever the case: come, or send your worthy emissaries, to this celebration of the fall issue at the Zyzzyva office -- Zyzzyva being a great San Francisco-based literary journal.
WHERE: office of Zyzzyva
466 Geary St., Suite 401, SF, 94102
Wednesday, September 12th, 7:30 pm
A theatrical dramatization of "Cuba + Kids – Water"
(an essay I wrote for Zyzzyva about having lived illegally about 1.5 years ago for 2 months in Cuba with two kids and mate) Directed by Mae Ziglin Meidav. The four actors appearing are: Carolyn Cox, Matthew Surrence, Tamar Cohn, James Sundquist
Or join a more informal venture September 15, 6 pm (or 7) as part of Manhattan's Lit Crawl: Edie Meidav, Brando Skyhorse, and John Reed offer short readings and long toasts, as well as thematically linked drinks, at Von bar(21+) on Bleecker Street http://litcrawl.org/nyc/schedule/literature-and-libations
Or come to WORD bookstore in Brooklyn and join blogger David John Gutowski of Large-hearted Boy: LOLA,CALIFORNIA + music, in discussion with musician Kevin Salem and, perhaps, special guests. September 19th.
Edie Meidav is a recipient of a Lannan Fellowship and author of the critically acclaimed The Far Field, recipient of the Kafka award for best novel by an American woman, and Crawl Space, winner of the Bard Fiction Prize. She lived in Northern California, where she directed the MFA writing program at the New College of California on Valencia Street in San Francisco. She is currently writer-in-residence at Bard College in upstate New York.