Review

All About Lulu

by Jonathan Evison

When his mother dies, seven-year-old vegetarian William Miller
stops growing. His father, a bodybuilder named Big Bill, redoubles
his own efforts in the gym, dragging Will and his younger twin
brothers, Doug and Ross, along. But nothing Big Bill can do eases
the pain of their loss. As William tells it, “My mother had a
way with Big Bill. It’s not that she outsmarted him --- I
could’ve done that --- it’s the way she
outsmarted him, the way she did everything, like she was dancing
with life and let life lead, doing everything life did, only
backwards and in heels.” In short, she is irreplaceable, and
while Doug and Ross fall in with their father and his workouts,
Will drifts.

Three years of resisting his father, resisting meat, resisting
growth. Then Big Bill remarries and along comes Lulu, a fascinating
new stepsister. Will and Lulu form a delightful, exclusive and, for
Will, all-consuming bond, which he documents in countless
notebooks. He discovers his literal voice as well and adopts radio
as an ancillary passion. Their happiness endures until Lulu goes
away to cheerleading camp one summer and returns only to
inexplicably push Will away. Will must grow up without his one
consolation, and how he manages forms the core of this funny, wise
book.

Author Jonathan Evison tells the story in Will’s fresh,
sardonic voice, and the backdrop of the book --- 1980s Los Angeles
--- pervades without intruding. The descriptions are gem-like,
brilliant and concise. At a bodybuilding competition, the green
room “smelled strongly of coconut and armpits. Nearly every
mirror was occupied.” (Let’s see, 1980s, bodybuilding
--- yes, Arnold, the Arnold, is there, too.) Will’s
love for his stepsister continues unabated, and he’s reduced
to staring at the crack of light under her door.

Big Bill and Lulu’s mother, Willow, struggle to keep their
marriage afloat. After high school, Lulu flees for college in
Seattle, leaving Will to his job at Fatburger and his discovery of
philosophy at community college, where he comes to revere his
teacher, Gerard Smith. “His clogs walked on air, high above
the vagaries of day-to-day life. Even Sartre could not deflate his
billowy sleeves.”

Lulu returns, leaves, writes letters, and occasionally lets Will
close when her pain is too great to bear alone. Will makes friends
with her discarded boyfriend Troy and starts a hot dog stand in
Venice Beach with “a little potato of a guy,” Eugene
Gobernecki, a Soviet defector turned hyper-capitalist, and his
former Fatburger manager, Acne Scar Joe.

Doug and Ross surprise Will and actually grow up into
independent, thinking beings. All the while, Will’s heart
yearns for Lulu. Through letters and occasional visits and finally
a crisis, we eventually learn why she had to turn away and get to
know a different side of Big Bill.


In his first novel, Evison handles all these threads so well we
don’t even realize it until the last poignant page. It had me
chuckling and feeling like I’d met the characters, even the
“minor” ones, like the girl with the poodle hair who
bestows on Will his first kiss. ALL ABOUT LULU is funny, smart and
moving, literary but compulsively readable. I highly recommend
it.

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on December 22, 2010

All About Lulu
by Jonathan Evison

  • Publication Date: July 21, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press
  • ISBN-10: 1593761961
  • ISBN-13: 9781593761967