A decades-old murder in New Age-inflected Berkeley forces a reunion between two high-school best friends in Edie Meidav’s textured, disquieting third novel. Lola, California plumbs the rise and fall of a friendship, finding its terrifying resonance for the adults it produced. Former Berkeley professor and ’70s guru Vic Mahler sits in a California prison with brain cancer, an unwitting cause célèbre for opponents of the tough new death penalty under which he is sentenced to die. Even though he won’t see her, a lawyer named Rose, who practically grew up in Vic’s house, believes she can secure him a stay so he can die in peace. After they met at 14, Rose and Vic’s daughter Lana were so inseparable, they called each other by the same name, Lola, sharing clothes and secret dances; even when sneaking out on Lana’s parents or Rose’s foster mother, they always went home together. After Vic’s arrest, Lana walked out of her best friend’s life, moving to L.A. and changing her name. The former best friends reencounter each other at a hot spring where Lana has moved with her new boyfriend, who hopes to follow in Vic’s footsteps.
As a psychedelic, spiraled-out mystery, Lola, California relies on the self-absorption of teenage girls and an intense focus on the friendship between Lana and Rose, building suspense as to the nature of Vic’s crime and the extent to which he felt himself protected from the ramifications of what he preached. The permissiveness of the girls’ upbringing allowed them a string of dangerous freedoms, but also gave them a closeness that let them pull away from their parents and see their own dark corners of the world. After finding her friend again after so many years, Rose appeals to that closeness. Since insight into Vic is so scant—and mostly comes through the eyes of his prison guard—Lana and Rose’s accounts for his crimes provide the missing pieces, until the ending blow to his case is delivered.
The girls’ shared secrets trickle out over the length of Lola, California, and they’re consistently surprising without being played for shock value. They nudge the duo’s reunion into the territory of betrayal when it turns out Rose’s coincidental stay at the hot spring wasn’t mere chance. Meidav’s Northern California milieu, so palpably disturbed in its quest for new freedoms, gives their conversations a sensuous but unsettling backdrop over which the women are forced to acknowledge their participation in that world, and how it shaped them thereafter.