"Mama says mine is a night mind. The first time she said that I asked her what she meant and she said 'Darling you think best in the dark like me.' I think she's right. Here I am staying up late tonight so I can write in my new diary. Mama gave it to me for my birthday today. I love to write. Mama and Daddy write but I don't think they love to write anymore, they just write because they have to."
Science fiction novel, written in 1993 by Jack Womack. The novel is part of Womack's "Dryco" series -- it was the fifth novel published in the series, though it occurs first in the series chronology.
Some spoilers for the book will follow.
The story is set in the nebulous near-future, in a United States beset by high unemployment, riots, and a rapidly decaying national government and society. Our lead character is a 12-year-old girl named Lola Hart. She goes to the prestigious Brearly private school for girls. Her father Michael is a screenwriter struggling to sell new scripts. Her mother Faye is a teacher who can't find a teaching job and uses Xanax and other pills a bit much. Her little sister is Cheryl, but everyone calls her, for unspecified reasons, Boob. (Boob's nickname for Lola is Booz.) They live in a nice apartment on 86th Street in New York City. Lola is keeping a diary, addressing every entry as if she were writing a letter to a fictional person named Anne. Lola has two best friends, Lori and Katherine.
Lola's life is about to go straight to hell.
So we follow her over the course of a terribly short five months as the Harts lose more money, take terrible jobs, and lose their home. Multiple presidents are killed, either by assassination, accident, or "accident." The riots get worse, the government crackdowns get worse, and a new monetary system is created that seems to be designed to make everyone less secure. Lola loses friends, explores her sexuality, and gains new friends who bring her into a new, more dangerous lifestyle even while they treat her with love, kindness, and support. She loses her family, too, bit by heartbreaking bit. She loses her new friends, too, and she loses the girl she loves most in the whole world. And she loses herself -- or at least gains a new self.
And through her diary, we watch Lola gradually change from a typical prep-school teenager to an angry, murderous street rat. She gradually picks up new slang and attitude as the months pass -- if you read the last page before you read the rest of the book, you won't understand what she's saying. But when you follow along with her life, you learn the slang as she uses it, and by the end, you can follow almost everything she says.
It's a tragedy and a deeply disheartening story, and it's also a glorious and beautiful book. Lola's life and passions, her friends and family, her downward spiral, and her joys, even amidst her new life, are all portrayed with compassion. This isn't tragedy porn -- no one exults in Lola's pain. You feel her losses as you'd feel your own because Womack clearly loves Lola, her family, and her friends. But tragedies are not unheard of, in either fiction or real life. The history of war, refugees, dictatorships, and poverty are littered with people like the Harts.
The book is not well known among sci-fi fans, which writer Jo Walton attributes to a combination of the book's unwieldy title, its unappealing cover art, a release schedule that allowed it to be overlooked during awards season, and the fact that it didn't really fit in with the most popular brands of science fiction at the time. But Walton and many others love the book dearly and can easily be encouraged to evangelize about its greatness.
I ended up reading this at the worst possible time -- we were in the middle of a week-long power outage due to an ice storm, which definitely made me feel like the world around me was falling apart with no hope for future improvements. And of course, the great national tragedy we're all beginning to live through -- the inauguration of thin-skinned Russia puppet Donald Trump as president -- just to put you in mind of depressing dystopias.
I do hope that Lola found a way to escape and survive, that she was able to save her family, that she was able to make a new life away from the terrors of the collapsing NYC. I know, deep down, that she didn't, but I hope it all the same.
I can't recommend this book for everyone -- it's a heartbreaking tale, and not the sort of thing you want prowling in your mind as you contemplate your children's futures. But it's a beautifully written character study of a girl on her way over the edge, and if you can find it, it's worth a read.
"Lookabout people. Beef me overlong and I groundbound you express. Down down down you go down and I be bottomed out set to catch. Snatch your whispers and tape what plays then hit rewind and scream you to sleep, siren you ass and then ex you proper. Lookabout all you. Spec your mirror and there I be. Crazy evilness be my design if that’s what needs wearing. All people herebound be evil-souled heartside, no ho they sweet talk. Shove do push and push do shove and everybody in this world leave lovelost hereafter. Lookabout. Chase me if you want. Funnyface me if you keen but mark this when I go chasing I go catching. Eye cautious when you step out people cause I be running streetwild come nightside and nobody safes when I ride. I bite. Can’t cut me now. Can’t fuck me now. Can’t hurt me now. No more. No more."
Interview with Jack Womack