May 2009

Laura van den Berg

fiction

Last Last Chance by Fiona Maazel

A superplague on the loose. Reincarnation. A Kosher chicken farm. Rehab. Unrequited love. Suicide. A narrator that doesn’t know if she wants to live or die. Combine these ingredients, add a good dose of drugs and death and disaffection, and you have Fiona Maazel’s lively, daring, and madcap debut novel, Last Last Chance.

The majority of the novel’s action revolves around the threat of the superplague, a particularly deadly strain that disappeared from Lucy’s father’s lab, an event that led to his suicide: “There was much ransacking of his stuff, which he did not take well. A part of me worries this is what tipped him over, that his own family doubted him. But we didn’t doubt. It was just fear.” The spread of the superplague and the subsequent panic might drive the novel, but the real threat is not the deadly sickness; rather it is the spiritual death that has gripped the inhabitants of this vividly-rendered American landscape. Maazel’s characters are in agony, have been in agony their whole lives, it seems -- so long that their pain has morphed into a listless, detached, and unshakable suffering, soothed only by copious amounts of drugs. Curiously, the threat of death by superplague, even as new cases start popping up around the country, remains somewhat distant; it’s Lucy’s daily struggles to find meaning and beauty, to find the will to survive, that give the novel its immediacy and urgency.

Readers watch Lucy grapple with her drug addiction and half-heartedly attend 12-step meetings; deal with her strung-out mother; try to make amends with her peculiar and angry younger sister; make inappropriately late phone calls to her old friend, Kam, who is now married to the man Lucy loves; attend a rehab facility in the Texas desert, which is soon overtaken by stowaways searching for an isolated place to wait out the epidemic. The daily trials of Lucy’s life are enough to push anyone over the edge; at certain points, one gets the sense that death by superplague would almost be a relief.

Maazel’s prose can take some getting used to. There’s a skittishness to the writing that makes the tone seem off-kilter at times, as though certain sentences aren’t quite hitting the right key. But as the novel progresses, a powerful parallel between the disjunctive tone and the psychic disconnection of her characters emerges. Form begins to mirror content, and the powers of Maazel’s fictional world take over.

With her powerful and provocative Last Last Chance, Maazel presents a fictional world that, despite the unthinkable having happened, feels strikingly familiar to the America we currently inhabit. In the face of a catastrophic disaster, one would like to think that we would rise heroically to the occasion, demonstrating previously unknown levels of nobility and grace. But the apathy, denial, and resignation of Maazel’s characters offer a stark reminder that the end of the world as we know it might be just around the corner, but it’s not likely to bring on a tidal wave of national redemption. In fact, as some dark and disastrous path of death and destruction moves across the land, we might be surprised at how little we are capable of changing.

Last Last Chance by Fiona Maazel
Picador
ISBN: 0312428316   
368 pages