The way that time moves in Lola, California is a kind of stuttering fluid — marked by dates and times at each chapter's start but not so clearly marked in the text itself. This barely mitigated flow is a fair match for the blurring of self between two girls at the height of their adolescent friendship: Lana and Rose or, as they call themselves, Lola One and Lola Two. As grown women, the Lolas alternately yearn for and hide from this closeness, with each other as well as with their parents, lovers, and friends. Out of this slippery stuff, Edie Meidav carves an exploration of the thickets of female friendship (and of femaleness itself), examining through a sizeable series of lenses the way we make choices and the weight that those choices come to bear.
"One of my motivations for writing this book was to address the romantic primacy of friendships, especially for girls," Meidav said. "We hear so much about the importance of our families, life-mates, or our work environments in determining the meaning, purpose, and identity of our lives, but not enough about how particular friendships, in certain vulnerable periods, form much of how we think of ourselves and our future possibilities." One Lola, Lana, the novel's loose cannon, is the daughter of Berkeley intellectuals. Her father, Vic Mahler, is a counterculture hero and a patron saint of neuroethology, the study of cellular-level urges and imperatives that fascinated Meidav as a college freshman. If Mahler's rants are dense and circuitous, his effect on his wife, his daughter, and her best friend is clear — they all allow themselves to be guided, often unquestioningly, by their darker, more selfish impulses, whether those impulses involve lovers, employment, or heinous crime.
Mahler is followed around by what he and his family call his "shaggies," whose overarching interpretation of his highbrow work is simply "follow your bliss." Mahler and the shaggies have a love/hate relationship — they occasionally lash out at him for hypocrisy, and he curses them while letting them camp out on his lawn. And though Meidav didn't model Mahler on anyone specific, she did garner some inspiration from a reading she attended at Cody's Books by philosopher Norman O. Brown. "I saw how Brown's followers lived in a proportion larger than the man's own life; that, tweed-suited professor that he was, his words had spawned virtual orphans within the counterculture. And yet I fell in love with his ethical gesture: Brown accepted some form of paternity for the crazies in the crowd, proving he was not just a man of ideas."
Though Meidav, who reads Thursday, July 28, at Mrs. Dalloway's (2904 College Ave., Berkeley), spent much of her own tween and adolescent years in Berkeley, she shies away from whether she's more of an idful Lana or a loyal, following Rose. "If I were truly coy, I would refer you to the walnut-themed passage in the novel in which Lana ponders the French writer Colette, wanting to have been Colette, since, as the novel says, surely the author had to have experienced what she wrote about, or was that not the case?" Meidav said. "To be a bit more forthcoming, I will say that I conflated many friends of mine in order to come up with both Rose and Lana, and that since any friendship is colored by subjectivity, there are bits of me in each of them." 7:30 p.m., free. 510-704-8222 or MrsDalloways.com.