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Review: Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him

15/02/2010

I made a jaunt to Half-Price Books last week, one of my favorite places in the world and probably my greatest source of new and interesting reading material that, let’s face it, I probably wouldn’t find otherwise. I especially enjoy browsing the special section with $2 and $3 books, because those are probably some of the best understated deals around. On this particular journey, HPB had carts set up throughout the store with $1 clearance books — thank you for saving me the walk back to your (poorly arranged, I will admit) clearance section! I had to take a look.

Unfortunately there wasn’t too much to catch my attention, but on the top of one cart I saw a title that grabbed me: Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him, by Danielle Ganek.

Ganek is a first-time author and the book itself is about three years old, and I was momentarily turned off by the blurb’s claim that “As The Devil Wears Prada demystified the world of high fashion, this funny and insightful debut novel dishes the crazy and captivating Manhattan art scene.” After all, I still have visions of the interminable exposition from Little Pink Slips, which made a similar comparison to Jennifer Weisberger’s 2003 debut hit. Still, for one little dollar I figured what’s the harm?

Great choice.

The story opens on an art auction in the fall. Mia McMurray acts as witness and commentator to what even a reader unfamiliar with the art scene comes to understand quickly is more than your everyday auction. At the center of bidding lies Lot 22, Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him by the recently deceased Jeffrey Finelli. With the first chapter Ganek expertly back-starts the exposition and leaves the reader with a mind full of questions — who are these people? what is so great about this painting? — that are unrealized until Chapter 2 pulls the story back to the beginning.

Ganek’s prose is straightforward and clean; she isn’t flowery or overexpressive and because of that she is able to weave a complicated plot without any unnecessary tangles. Lulu, a haunting figurative portrait, becomes an object of fixation for the collectors vying to add her to their collection, as well as for Lulu Finelli, its subject. Mia, the receptionist at the gallery housing the painting, and Lulu develop a bond over shared experience, loss, and a growing attachment to the painting and whatever message Jeffrey left within for Lulu to now understand. Mia and Lulu are clear, obvious protagonists, but even at the close of the story it is impossible to determine for certain who the main character is – Mia, Lulu…or Lulu.

The plot moves at a brisk pace, giving the reader just enough time to process what is going on but never so much that it starts to drag. Intelligent commentary and witty banter aptly frame the underlying philosophical questions that this excellent first novel poses to the reader.

Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him is by no means comparable to The Devil Wears Prada, except that like the latter, the former is a spectacular sortie for the author into the world of contemporary fiction. Lulu, though about half the length of TDWP, does more than move the reader with a good story — it haunts the reader with the same question plaguing the characters who make their way through the Simon Pryce Gallery: “God, is that you?”

You can buy the book through Amazon, Borders, or any book retailer.

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