In Makhmali’s novel, a young woman tries to come to terms with her father’s crime of years ago.
At the outset of the story, Lanna Zar is 5 years old, a self-described “beautiful catastrophe” who’s smart, vivacious, and more irreverent than her parents had bargained for. Her family lives in a lakeside community in rural New Jersey, where her father, Jack, is a scientist at a local university. At the pool, where Jack has been teaching Lanna to swim, she meets a little boy named Sam Azurite, whose mother, Sophie, has a black eye. There, Jack flirts with Sophie. Later, Sam’s parents are found dead. Suspicion falls on Jack, as he’d given Sophie a gun for protection, and he’s sentenced to 15 years in prison. Two decades pass, and Lanna now works in advertising in Manhattan. She’s successful but troubled that she grew up as the daughter of a convicted criminal. She shares an expensive apartment with a verbally abusive, racist man, whom she soon leaves. Plump checks have been arriving from Jack, and Lanna gets word that he wants to meet with her. A long, odd trip ensues as Lanna heads toward a billionaire-funded, crystal meditation retreat where Jack resides. She goes on a mystical journey at the residence before encountering Jack to get the resolution she needs. Makhmali’s smart debut has a unique style and structure that is held together by vivid characterization. Lanna, for instance, is a hurricane of emotion with eclectic tastes; she eats bodega meals, drinks blood-orange San Pellegrinos, and bites into whole heirloom tomatoes by the side of the road. Her desire to get to the root of things runs strong, and Makhmali explores her protagonist’s fears, hopes, and failings in explicit detail. As Lanna goes down the rabbit hole during her mystical exile, though, some of the scenes become rather esoteric. Indeed, it’s difficult to understand her relationship with a man named Luke “Shep” Sheppard given the odd circumstances of their meeting. But as a story about resolving a painful past with her father, the emotions play out wonderfully.
A thought-provoking debut with a unique take on unconventional family problems.