Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: The Diamond Lane by Karen Karbo

The Diamond Lane

Author: Karen Karbo
Publisher: Hawthorne Books and Literary Arts, Inc.
Date of Publication: September 23, 2014 (Re-issue, Original DOP 1993)
Pages: 377 (e-book edition)

    This is a re-issue of Karen Karbo's 1993 "New York Times" Notable Book in trade paperback and e-book editions.  Twenty years after its initial release, The Diamond Lane still succeeds as biting satire and an indictment of fame, celebrity culture and the shallowness of modern life.

     On the surface this is the story of two sisters, Mimi and Mouse Fitzhenry, products of the Los Angeles suburbs who took very divergent paths following high school.  L.A. is described by the author as "a world where the unexpected happened and the expected didn't."  Mimi chased the Hollywood dream, working as a secretary in a talent agency while trying to find acting jobs and taking classes in "How to Write a Blockbuster."  Mouse goes to film school and then abandons the traditional movie scene to make obscure documentaries in Nigeria.  They are reunited following sixteen years of separation after their mother suffers a freak accident (she is struck in the head by a falling ceiling fan at an "all you can eat" buffet).  

     The sisters' adolescent love/hate relationship picks right up where it left off sixteen years before.  This involves typical sibling rivalries, guilt trips, ex-husbands, boyfriends and competition for everything from Mom's attention to movie contracts.  The title refers to the high occupancy vehicle lanes on the California freeways where everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere.  This metaphor runs throughout the novel as each character is constantly in helter skelter motion, most often without a defined destination.  The last half of the book also involves a scathing indictment of the trappings surrounding modern weddings, including flowers flown in from Europe, gold engraved invitations, etc...

     My only criticism of the book is the way the author handled Mouse.  Midway through the story Mouse's character turns from a counter-culture artist unconcerned with fashion or modernity to a self-conscious, self-obsessed consumer.  This seemed like a fairly radical switch for a central character.  That criticism aside, this book succeeds as a very funny social satire that, despite being technologically dated (allusions to "box phones"), rings true today as much as it did when it was first released in 1993.  Enjoy The Diamond Lane.  It is a fun read. 

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