German-born, Australia-raised, New York resident Brett (You Gotta Have Balls, 2006, etc.) invests some of her own multicultural back story in her eponymous protagonist, an innocent abroad in a rock-’n’-roll world.
When we first meet Lola, she’s interviewing rising guitar hero Jimi Hendrix for Rock-Out, the Australian magazine that has sent this 19-year-old daughter of Holocaust survivors to London. While most young women would be swooning, Lola is telling Mick Jagger about her mother’s ordeal at Auschwitz or—when she crosses the Atlantic to New York—admitting to an arrogant, very stoned Jim Morrison that she doesn’t like him. Though she’s fat and constantly promising herself she will diet, Lola is too preoccupied by her fraught relationship with her traumatized parents to be intimidated by celebrities. As the story moves by fits and starts through the decades, she marries and then leaves a Former Rock Star (unnamed) for a painter and continues asking naïve but oddly effective questions of the people she interviews. Brett’s portraits of Lola’s subjects contain nothing that isn’t already familiar to anyone who has read more than two books on the 1960s music scene, and her prose is so un-nuanced and uninflected that the entire novel sounds as if it was written by a 19-year-old. Yet palpable sincerity and a good heart have the same cumulative impact in the narrative as they do in Lola’s interviews. Always utterly herself, she elicits genuine emotions from the stars she encounters (controlling Sonny Bono and pretentious Pete Townshend being the notable exceptions). Having observed Lola’s crippling panic attacks and her devastation over her mother’s death, readers will be relieved to see her transformation.
A curious mix of wide-eyed ingenuousness and death-haunted anxiety, and certainly no stylistic masterpiece, but so sweet-natured it’s impossible not to like.