Saturday, August 20, 2011

One More Stop: Book Review

"One More Stop"
Lois Walden
Arcadia, 2010
9781906413613 245 pp

Author Lois Walden has an impressive résumé as a singer/songwriter/producer. This debut novel, written in the first person, is a fast read. Her protagonist Loli is at mid-life, still searching for herself. She has an unsatisfying relationship with Simone, who leaves her to work at her career, which sometimes results in long absences. They have an open relationship, which Loli doesn’t remember agreeing to, or doesn’t recall why she agreed to it. After twenty years together, Loli is trying to sort out her feelings for Simone. Interestingly, her mother committed suicide almost twenty years ago as well, and now Loli is battling her own mental illness. Her mother’s voice appears as nursery rhymes, even though neither Loli nor her older sister recall their mother ever reciting rhymes to them.
One of the rhymes Loli hears is the Irish song Molly Malone which turns out to be the name of a bright young student Loli meets in Beatrice, Nebraska. Loli gets hired by a theater company to teach in schools across the country where arts programs have been cut. This is good for them and good for Loli – if she can keep her head together. She struggles along, looking forward to Beatrice because that is also her mother’s name. And when she gets there, there is Molly Malone. Molly has a beautiful mother. Married. But unhappy! In fact, the guy is a real jerk. Maggie and Loli have an affair, keep it secret from Molly who is finding her creative and scholarly self under Loli’s guidance at school. After Beatrice, Loli returns to New York, leaving Molly behind to deal with her bad marriage, and Maggie to continue her struggles in school. She herself has to come to grips with her relationship with Simone, as well as her escalating mental illness in the form of her mother’s voice. Her father is dying. Everything comes to a head, and is resolved.
This reviewer cringed at the ethics (or morals) of messing around in Molly and Maggie’s lives, especially as the protagonist barely knew them and wasn’t going to be around when things got ugly. The author created a protagonist with no apparent awareness of the realities the vast majority of people – particularly women – face in today’s world. This tale is set in a time of budget cuts, and the theater company who hires Loli is struggling, yet Walden writes of daily psychiatric visits, spur of the moment flights, and shoplifting candy bars with her grown sister before jumping into their BMW as if these are routine events available to (and desired by) anyone. It may be Walden’s intent to test the consciousness of her readers. Readers can’t presume the protagonist is anything akin to the author. This is fiction, not memoir, but it may rankle.
One reviewer slammed Walden for writing “unsex[y] sex” but on that issue I have to disagree. While I sometimes thought the sex was gratuitous – I found it realistically sexy, and I was happy to read a drama with a somewhat butch protagonist.
"One More Stop" was a finalist for the 2011 Lambda Literary Award for debut drama. Given Ms. Walden’s track record in her other ventures, her next novel will no doubt be more original, have a swiftly moving plot, and be more mindful of her audience’s realities. I will keep the faith.