Sunday, September 2, 2012

How To Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak

A lonely immigrant to LA tries to find out what's inside a private Russian nightclub

So called Anya, Polish born, but brought to this country as a child, comes to LA, and is fascinated by the garish Twin Palms nightclub next door to her run down West Hollywood apartment. She is determined to see inside, and, with a blunt direct seduction, chooses club goer Lev, a middle aged Russian wise guy, as her "boyfriend." Lev is all too happy to use Anya for sex but not much else. When Lev puts her in her place, she turns to a drastic solution.

There were echoes here of Burning, Diane Johnson's novel of LA eccentrics who continue in their sun baked eccentricity even as their mansions go up in smoke. I think in both novels there is an underlying editorial approval, Sodom and Gomorrah style, that LA going up in smoke is a fine conclusion. Waclawiak has an appealing deadpan prose style that works well as Anya encounters the Russians next door; Lev's wife and her nasty friends; Mary, the eccentric Bingo lady, (who in her life has experienced true love).  The characters are vivid and lively.

Anya's motivations confused me a little, however. Why does she want to get into the Twin Palms? It seemed very tacky. Why does she pursue Lev? He really seems tacky - though manly and animalistic. I didn't understand the fascination. I assume it was a sort of deranged lust, but then again Anya finds all human excretions disgusting and parts of the book are nauseating. In a literary way, of course.

I sense the real emotional story lies with Anya's Polish mother left behind in Texas and their strained phone conversations. The real immigrant's story of leaving family and culture behind. And also Anya's relationship with Mary, the chippy bingo lady and the tale of her lost love. The conflagration at the end felt a little tacked on.

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