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Last Last Chance: A Novel

Last Last Chance: A Novel

by Fiona Maazel

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Last Last Chance, Fiona Maazel's first novel, is one of the most distinctive debuts of recent years: a rollicking comic tale about (in no particular order) plague, narcotics recovery, and reincarnation.

A lethal strain of virus vanishes from a lab in Washington, D.C., unleashing an epidemic—and the world thinks Lucy Clark's dead father is to


Last Last Chance, Fiona Maazel's first novel, is one of the most distinctive debuts of recent years: a rollicking comic tale about (in no particular order) plague, narcotics recovery, and reincarnation.

A lethal strain of virus vanishes from a lab in Washington, D.C., unleashing an epidemic—and the world thinks Lucy Clark's dead father is to blame. The plague may be the least of Lucy's problems. There's her mother, Isifrid, a peddler of high-end hatwear who's also a crackhead and pagan theologist. There's her twelve-year-old half sister, Hannah, obsessed with disease and Christian fundamentalism; and Lucy's lover, Stanley, who's hell-bent on finding a womb for his dead wife's frozen eggs. Lastly, there's her grandmother Agneth, who believes in reincarnation (and who turns out to be right). And then there is Lucy herself, whose wise, warped approach to life makes her an ideal guide to love among the ruins. Romping across the country, from Southern California to the Texas desert to rural Pennsylvania and New York City, Lucy tries to surmount her drug addiction and to keep her family intact—and tells us, uproariously, all about it.

Last Last Chance is a novel about survival and recovery, opportunity and despair, and, finally, love and faith in an age of anxiety. It introduces Maazel as a new writer of phenomenal gifts.

Editorial Reviews

Joshua Henkin
Maazel's book has enough event—and enough eccentricity—to torpedo your average novel. But Last Last Chance isn't your average novel, thanks in no small part to Maazel's funny, lacerating prose. The book fits squarely in the tradition of novels about the wealthy and dissolute, but ultimately it's less John Cheever than Denis Johnson—the Denis Johnson of Jesus' Son, with its drug-addled narrators—though Maazel's voice is more caffeinated, more fueled by attitude…and more prone to hectoring…Maazel is particularly adept at conveying the desperation of the addict, how everything—even a potentially world-ending plague—is eclipsed by the need for a fix.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

A sprawling debut with an alternately absurdist and sardonic tone, Maazel's debut follows the tribulations of Lucy, a young drug addict who works at a New York City kosher chicken plant. Lucy's father was a Centers for Disease Control bigwig who's recently committed suicide, presumably due to fallout from his perceived role in an outbreak of plague that is spreading across America. Her mother, Isifrid, is a crack-addled gazillionaire, while grandmother Agneth talks incessantly of reincarnation, and younger half-sister Hannah harbors a huge obsession with disease. As the novel opens, Lucy sets off with her alcoholic, over-50 co-worker, Stanley, to attend the wedding of her best friend, Kam-who is marrying Eric, whom Lucy met first and fell in love with. After some hijinks, Lucy heads to a rehab facility in Texas. Over the course of Lucy's wild road trip, Maazel, daughter of conductor Loren, delivers some electric writing: the novel is brimming with wit, ideas and delightfully screwball humor. But the whimsy undermines the story, especially on the abundant substance abuse material. The novel's earnest, surprising conclusion feels out of sync with the zingy, existential banter of its core. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Lucy is a drug addict, as is her mother. Her grandmother believes in reincarnation. Her half-sister believes in research and Jesus. Her father is believed to have released an incurable strain of the plague that is killing capriciously across the United States. Lucy, in her way, hopes to get drug-free, but her pessimistic outlook, her chronic depression, her crazy family, and the world that surrounds her all conspire to keep her from achieving that goal. She can't have the man she loves; she doesn't appreciate the man she has. After a wild stay at a Texas rehab, Lucy finds that her sense of the world has shifted. When her mother dies, and Lucy "inherits" her best friend's baby, her transformation to cautious optimism is complete. First novelist Maazel's descriptive powers are strong, and she captures the alternating hope and despair of her complex and quirky characters as they confront the unknown and the unknowable. Recommended.
—Joanna M. Burkhardt Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
A mordantly comic debut novel about plague, addiction and botched romance. First, there's Lucy. She's an addict. She's tried 12-step programs, rehab and working on a kosher chicken farm, but nothing seems to help. Then there's her mother, who is also an addict and even less committed to sobering up than Lucy. There's her grandmother, Agneth, who believes in reincarnation, and her preteen half sister, Hannah, who spends her free time studying infectious diseases and hanging out with white-supremacist fundamentalist Christians. There's also Stanley, a co-worker from the chicken farm, who is trying to find someone to gestate his dead wife's frozen gametes. There are the many dead, yet present, souls who inhabit (sort of) the novel's living characters. Then there's Lucy's father, who recently killed himself after a deadly virus went missing from his lab. Finally, there's the rest of the world, already enduring an age of anxiety and now just beginning to panic about the "superplague" that's on the loose. Lucy is a loser and rather addled, but she's an engaging narrator, and her views on addiction and recovery are frequently funny and insightful. She stops into a 12-step meeting just after the virus has started to take its first victims and offers this assessment: "The meeting goes on. No one mentions superplague, but then no one would. We are entirely too self-centered to let such matters upstage miseries of our own devising." This observation captures much of the action in the novel. Maazel deftly depicts how routine trumps crisis, and how personal dramas tend to take precedence over global catastrophes. Lucy, for example, is far more angst-ridden over a failed romance than she is aboutlooming mass extinction. Killer viruses, when they appear in fiction, are generally the catalyst for fast-paced thrills, and there is a certain off-kilter appeal to Maazel's slower, more intimate and aimless approach. But, ultimately, the pace is just too slow, and the novel's concerns too broad and muddled for a truly satisfying narrative. A first novel that shows promise of better work to come.

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Read an Excerpt

Last Last Chance
By Fiona Maazel
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Copyright © 2008 Fiona Maazel
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-18385-1

Chapter One People I love know how to get on with their lives. In evidence: A girlfriend from elementary school was getting married. Day after tomorrow, Plaza Hotel. The invitation was piped in copper and rice, maybe because the bride was Indian. It promised a groom on horseback. This I'd like to see. I knew the groom, which made it tough to imagine horseback nothin'. A horse could make him cry. A horse could make me cry. How fortuitous. When the crying starts, blame horse.

I was on break outside the crèche. The view was coops and farmland. Tractor here, reaper there, and, per usual, Wanda Deckman headed my way. She is the chief union steward. She likes to meddle. And, in my case, to paw for information apropos a strain of lethal plague vanished from my father's lab a few months ago. I understood. Miasmic events storming the country were on everybody's mind. There was reason to believe the strain had fallen into enemy hands. Enemies of freedom, the press was saying. I tried to look buoyant.

"Lucy," she said, and grabbed at the card. "Hand it over." Never mind that I'd been fondling the invitation for weeks, it looked like news to her.

I did as told. She studied it and blushed. Not word of the Miasma, just some girl's wedding.

I said it was my oldest friend, though we don't talk.


I said I had regrets, more regrets than not.


"But I do like a good biryani," I said. "Some of the curries, too."

She agreed. Could I have the day off? Sure, have fun.

There was nothing left to say. Stanley Gensch, making for the john, came as a relief. He'd been the bellman and pluckhouse supervisor for twenty-three years, though his job was in peril. It always was. He drank. And, in drink, tended to forget the closing bell, which got Wanda cross and him grousing that double duty prefigured a screwup. No matter. Wanda could nail him with guilt. I'd even heard it myself, them squared off while she declaimed his past, social outcast inmate whose priors she chose to overlook when giving him what's called a second chance, even though this was more like his third or fourth and certainly did not feel like a chance since this place, this abattoir, was hours away from life in any direction, a kosher chicken plant that had the remove and dyspepsia of rehab. I had been here two months, four days, nine minutes.

First thing I noticed about the plant: hygiene was king. We wore latex gloves and surgical caps to repel disease. We sterilized our clothes. In canisters bolted to every wall: antibacterial mousse. Broadsides would come down from the office, stuff like, The chicken line cannot be exposed to unhealthful agents. That's the phrase we used: unhealthful agents. Listeria monocytogenes was a threat. I would read this, and my heart would sink. Because I knew what was on deck. I knew about disease-my dad had worked for the CDC-so yeah, I knew, which made for an uneasy time on the line. I'd developed a clucking of the tongue that kept time with the action of my hands. Some of the other girls got annoyed. They said I was disruptive. And when the brass called me up, they had this to add: The serenity proffered by the line can be had so long as you try.

It wasn't so much the job. My colleagues were fine. The vistas were great. But the feeling was claustral. I'd been exiled, and though I could leave anytime, I felt I deserved this. And that's the thing about exile, you tend to feel extra trapped if you know the comeuppance is just.

In the city, I'd been in sales for high-end retail. Next, I'd dabbled in real estate and estate planning, which have less in common than you'd think. Then I had my fun and slept with Mother's acupuncturist, whose practice foundered on the scandal. We were discovered by a client arrived too soon. Mother, who'd been footing my bills under aegis of Bridge Loan, decided to foot no more. And so, the chicken house. The house as holding tank until a bed opened up for me at a rehabilitation facility down South.

Wanda had hair to the small of her back, sieved through a low ponytail. Mostly white and gray, fried at the ends. She wore glasses. Red plastic. I often found her lost to the occupation of wiping the lenses, which had the boon of redress for awkward moments such as this.

She sat next to me on the step. I tried to stand and was successful at it.

"Did you just swoon?" she said. "Because that is not right. Especially at a wedding. Heels and a bad inner ear, I'm going to call it a bad inner ear, can make for a spill on the dance floor, not to mention the disco ball and strobe lights."

Wanda, apparently, had not been to a wedding since 1977.

She gloved herself and, once gloved, snapped the rubber cuffs like maybe she was about to engage in some ob-gyn activity. "Going to the pluckhouse," she said. "Sleep it off. Drive safe-"

I rolled up the invitation and brought it to my eye like maybe I could see something new in the prospect before me. Inner ear. Wanda's will to believe was disheartening. But she was just doing her best. I'm sure Mother had begged her to take me in. And who knew, maybe the chicken house really could subtend the path I was on. Maybe it would get me out of rehab. Rehab cost a fortune, and Mother had a habit of her own to finance. Plus, I really, really didn't want to go.

I scoped the terrain and found Stanley across the yard, shouting and throwing up his arms. I thought he might be trying to pep my spirits coach style, so I gave him a thumbs-up, like play ball!, which seemed to satisfy him enough to continue walking to the salting plant. I liked Stanley. We both had death in our families, and the idea of sharing our grief seemed to improve on acquaintance.

It was August. The wedding was on the thirtieth, which seemed odd because who gets married on a Friday? Less odd was that I had no date. I'd had weeks to prepare and yet: no date. Possibly it was because I knew the nuptials would be my last outing for a while, which meant having to find just the right escort, which meant being paralyzed by the onus of having to find Just the Right Escort. Possibly it was because I had no male friends. Most likely, though, it was because the pressure of having to front my well-being for at least five hours was so unsustainable, I'd been hoping the world would end before Friday. Showing up would certainly evidence progress of my own-is there anything more well adjusted than going to your oldest friend's wedding?-but also, come on, what a nightmare.

It was time to frisk the chickens. Alternately, there was my bed, which called out to me with godlike authority. I was under the covers in seconds. Unlike the other staff, I slept on the premises, in more of a barn than house, whose open windows and cracks in the joists let in a breeze I enjoyed, except by morning spindrift was always up in my hair, which made me look more acclimated than I would have liked.

I didn't have many personal items, since I'd left the city in a rush, essentially shoved on a bus by Mother, who blew kisses as the driver pulled out of Port Authority. There was Farfle, my stuffed sweet potato, and tweezers because I cannot live without tweezers, and a cardholder that looked like a recipe box, in which I kept a log of the men I've dated. My last entry was before I came here, when I was participating in a study-pheromones, I think-that paid enough to get me the blast, which became the tryst with the acupuncturist.

The good thing about the log is that it bedecks my heart with the lives I could have had if only. One of the entries was for a guy named Ben, Dirty Ben, who told me he had married a Venezuelan to help get her a Green Card, but that this was not in any way prohibitive of relations between us because she was gay. He could make for a good date at a Hindu wedding, being a free spirit and such. Plus he knew the bride from a Sierra Club summer when they had teamed up and gone door to door, guilting for money. As for me, we'd met last winter in Charleston, at a VA homeless shelter for narcotics recovery. It was absurd, my being there, because five seconds before I was at a department store, looking for sneakers-Chuck T's-until the saleslady was like: Oh, I recognize you from the news, your pop done fouled it up, at which point I got mad, and suddenly there's cops, rehab, and what? The worst I had on me was grass and a locket of smack around my neck. Ben was in for something retarded like Robitussin OD, though I found out later he was just there to get some crystal meth from one of the VA guys. His wife was not Venezuelan or gay, but I slept with him anyway. And since antibiotics are not cheap, and since Ben knew he was giving me more than his love, I figured he owed me. Plus he lived in New York.


Excerpted from Last Last Chance by Fiona Maazel Copyright © 2008 by Fiona Maazel . Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Fiona Maazel, born in 1975, was the 2005 Lannan Foundation fiction fellow. She lives in Brooklyn.

Fiona Maazel is the author of Last Last Chance and Woke Up Lonely. She is a winner of the Bard Prize for Fiction and a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. She teaches at Brooklyn College, Columbia, New York University, and Princeton. She lives in Brooklyn.

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