A Time Out New York Best Book of the Year
Named one of the 5 Best Writers Under 35 by the National Book Foundation
Includes an Author Interview and Discussion Questions
A lethal strain of virus vanishes from a lab in Washington, D.C., unleashing an epidemicand the world thinks Lucy Clark's 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; 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. Finally, there's Lucy herself, who tries to surmount her drug addiction and keep her family intact in this brilliant novel about survival and recovery, opportunity and apocalypse, and, finally, love and faith in an age of anxiety.
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Fiona Maazel, born in 1975, was the recipient of a 2005 Lannan Literary Fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn.
Read an Excerpt
Last Last Chance
By Fiona Maazel
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Copyright © 2008 Fiona Maazel
All right reserved.
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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Reading Group Guide
About this Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about Last Last Chance are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Last Last Chance.
1. Lucy struggles with self-loathing and a sense of worthlessness. Why do you think she feels this way? Nature or nurture? Do you blame her neglecting parents or something else?
2. On p.35, Lucy describes how she fell in love with Eric, but that this love wasn't enough to stop or even curb her drug abuse. Why not? Why might the support and presence of someone you love not be enough to help a person like Lucy cope with her suffering?
3. Similarly, Lucy is convinced that rehabs and therapybasically all the services available to people with problemswill not work for her. Why does she think so? What do you think she has to surmount before she's able to believe she can change or be helped?
4. Throughout Last Last Chance, the narrative gives voice to the main characters after they have died, or before they were born. How do these scenes affect the overall tone of the novel? Are they meant to give the action in the story a spiritual setting? To create some historical patterns? Do these voices help explain anything about Lucy and her family? How so?
5. A lot of the characters in the novel do awful things and behave badly, and yet you still root for them. Why? Do you root for some characters more than others?
6. At her grandmother's funeral, Lucy despairs about not being able to cry because she can't express her emotions like everyone else. Why do you think she's so withdrawn and stunted in her emotional development? What accounts for the sense of disconnect between her and the rest of the world?
7. When Lucy's mother, Isifrid, narrates her story, do you believe her explanation for why and how she became a drug addict? Can you think of other reasons why her life turned out so badly? Do you think she loves Lucy at all? Do you think that anyone could have saved her, or was her case always hopeless?
8. Why do you think Maazel chose to write a novel about a character trying to kick her drug addiction in the midst of a plague? Is there something about the panic and sickness of a plague that seems to mirror the experiences of the addict?
9. Do you think Maazel's account of what could happen in the advent of a biological attack seems realistic? Do you think you'd react and behave the way people in the novel do? If not, what might you do instead?
10. What do you think is going to happen to Hannah? Do you think she'll ever forgive Lucy? Should she? Is there a chance she could turn out a drug addict like her mother and her sister? Why or why not?
11. When Isifrid has a breakdown in Texas, Lucy is stirred to grief and wishes she could pray for her despite her reservations about God and prayer in general. How is she able to make that leap? Do you think that helping others might help Lucy overcome her own suffering?
12. Are Lucy and Stanley are a good match? What do you think they see in each other?
13. Do you think the plague will end, and things will go back to normal? Or will things only get worse? Will they ever catch the lunatic who unleashed the plague? Are we meant to have hope about the future of the world at the end? Are we meant to have hope for Lucy?
14. Have you or anyone you know ever experienced addiction or rehab? Do you think the feelings Lucy expresses are universal?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
With the news filled with talk of the swine flu, Fiona Maazel's debut novel Last Last Chance, and its storyline of the release of a superplague, seems prescient. Lucy is a thirty-year-old drug addict with six failed rehab stints behind her. Her mother is a wealthy business owner and crack addict, her twelve-year-old half sister dabbles in disease, cutting herself and fundamental Christianity, and her scientist father committed suicide after a deadly superplague created in the government lab where he worked disappears. Not exactly a feel-good novel, but one that is brilliantly plotted and written. Maazel states in the author's conversation at the end of the book that she "love(s) the craft of storytelling", and it shows. She writes sentences that are so amazing, they take your breath away. You simply have to go back and reread and savor them. She states that "every sentence feels like its own universe, and so I think long and hard about how to put that universe together." An example of one of my favorite sentences (and there are many) is "If my mother had a secret life, maybe I could forgive the one she led in front of us." She also states that Cormac McCarthy is a writer she admires, and while I was reading her book, it put me in mind of him as well, both in the beautifully crafted sentences, and the subject matter of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road. Whereas The Road is post-apocalyptic, Last Last Chance is pre-apocalyptic, and does have an element of gallows humor to it. There is so much stuffed into this novel, it almost defies description. Characters who have died and been reincarnated, or are waiting for reincarnation, narrate some chapters. This can be confusing at first, but stick with it, and you will be rewarded. The ravages of drug addiction are compared to the panic and illness of a world plague. The self-absorbed behavior of a drug addict is mirrored by the panic and self preservation that people exhibit when faced with a plague at their doorstep. The characters are not entirely likeable; indeed it is hard to feel sympathy for people who have much, but still fall into drug (and self) abuse. Yet the author gets you to root for these people. Lucy and her mother attend a drug rehab in Texas, and in group therapy they hear the heartbreaking stories of how some of their fellow residents became drug addicts; it is stark contrast to their own lives. Maazel manages to keep all her balls in the air, with many settings and characters to keep track of and move along. Her characters, and there are many, seem fully realized, and though you know them well, you leave wanting to know even more about them. This is a big novel, with much to contemplate and savor. It is a book that does not grab one right away, but once involved, it is something you cannot put down. If you are willing to commit to it, you will be richly rewarded. I highly recommend it and look forward to Maazels' next effort.
You wouldn't think a novel about the daughter of a scientist who kills himself after the super¿virus he created is stolen and unleashed on the world, bringing about the collapse of society, would be so hilarious. But it is. Honestly. First novel by a young author with a flair for deadpan wit and insight into the modern American mindset
First impressions/placeholder review: A whirlwind of research, joined with a beautiful, witty sense of the language and an utterly unique voice. Suspense and wonder keeps you turning pages. A remarkable debut novel.
Fiona Maazel's 'Last Last Chance' deals primarily with broken people and broken families in a society that is turning on itself. The foremost catalyst for all the shattering taking place in the main characters' family is drug addiction; wonderfully, Maazel manages to write in such a way that I myself felt as though I were on drugs. Breathless, at times fractured prose and stream-of-consciousness digressions are combined with a wonderful sense of irony (or, you know, snark...YMMV), making the dialogue snappy and witty and funny even as you recognize the tragedy of these broken relationships.I tore through the book in no time flat, and wasn't able to pick up another until Last Last Chance was finished (an unusual occurrence). It is sort of the happier, more manic younger sibling of drug-centered novels I have read recently. For a REAL downer, read "Random Family" by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. I may have enjoyed LLC as much as I did because I read it right after finishing RF, and it was such a lighthearted (on the surface) book in comparison to RF's excellent (but unrelentingly depressing), pull-no-punches description of 1980s' gang and drug culture in NYC.Four out of five stars.
Maazel's ambitious work blends addiction, plague, Norse mythology, reincarnation, birth, death and redemption into a tale of one woman's struggle to learn how to live. The novel is fascinating and the main character grows into someone the reader cares about as the story unfolds. My only criticism is of the number of thematic threads that are running through the novel. I felt the Norse myth and reincarnation themes actually took the focus off of the more interesting main story. But all in all, an enjoyable and thought-provoking read!
Wow -- I REALLY wanted to like this book but I couldn't get through it. Based on the blurb, it's probably a book I would have picked up and bought at the bookstore and it's very rare for me to give up on a book once I've started it. There were too many poorly sketched characters, with whom I couldn't connect, and the story was all over the place. Looking at the reviews here, I'm not the only one to feel this way, but perhaps I'll pick it up again at another time.
With the news filled with talk of the swine flu, Fiona Maazel's debut novel Last Last Chance, and its storyline of the release of a superplague, seems prescient.Lucy is a thirty-year-old drug addict with six failed rehab stints behind her. Her mother is a wealthy business owner and crack addict, her twelve-year-old half sister dabbles in disease, cutting herself and fundamental Christianity, and her scientist father committed suicide after a deadly superplague created in the government lab where he worked disappears. Not exactly a feel-good novel, but one that is brilliantly plotted and written. Maazel states in the author's conversation at the end of the book that she "love(s) the craft of storytelling", and it shows. She writes sentences that are so amazing, they take your breath away. You simply have to go back and reread and savor them. She states that "every sentence feels like its own universe, and so I think long and hard about how to put that universe together." An example of one of my favorite sentences (and there are many) is "If my mother had a secret life, maybe I could forgive the one she led in front of us."She also states that Cormac McCarthy is a writer she admires, and while I was reading her book, it put me in mind of him as well, both in the beautifully crafted sentences, and the subject matter of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road. Whereas The Road is post-apocalyptic, Last Last Chance is pre-apocalyptic, and does have an element of gallows humor to it.There is so much stuffed into this novel, it almost defies description. Characters who have died and been reincarnated, or are waiting for reincarnation, narrate some chapters. This can be confusing at first, but stick with it, and you will be rewarded. The ravages of drug addiction are compared to the panic and illness of a world plague. The self-absorbed behavior of a drug addict is mirrored by the panic and self preservation that people exhibit when faced with a plague at their doorstep.The characters are not entirely likeable; indeed it is hard to feel sympathy for people who have much, but still fall into drug (and self) abuse. Yet the author gets you to root for these people. Lucy and her mother attend a drug rehab in Texas, and in group therapy they hear the heartbreaking stories of how some of their fellow residents became drug addicts; it is stark contrast to their own lives. Maazel manages to keep all her balls in the air, with many settings and characters to keep track of and move along. Her characters, and there are many, seem fully realized, and though you know them well, you leave wanting to know even more about them.This is a big novel, with much to contemplate and savor. It is a book that does not grab one right away, but once involved, it is something you cannot put down. If you are willing to commit to it, you will be richly rewarded. I highly recommend it and look forward to Maazels' next effort.
I requested this tragicomedy from the LibraryThing ER program because it promised to be bizarre and apocalyptic ¿ an irresistible combination. Lucy narrates in first person, and most of the crazy comes from seeing the world through her unfocused eyes, though most of the other characters know how to bring it too.It¿s a dense novel ¿ reading it is akin to picking your way through the underbrush of a wild, virgin forest ¿ and after having spent most of my literary escapades lately careening through vast expanses of open meadows ¿ it took quite a bit of patience to get through. But if you can summon up the patience, it is richly rewarding. Even with a zany, preposterous (one hopes at least) plot, at the sentence level, the writing is breathtaking. And Debut Author Fiona Maazel juggles the trippy narrative arcs of the characters with ease, even giving past lives a chance to tell their story.And the end? Well, it¿s not wrapped neatly in a bow, but it does fit the title. Because what is a last last chance anyway? Infinite chances really. Which is the perfect theme to tie all the disparate threads of this novel together ¿ the addict trying to get clean, reincarnation, and even a slate-wiping mega disaster like a plague or the flood that killed everyone but Noah¿s family on the ark.
This is a book about life and death, and in particular about survival. Ostensibly it focuses on the threat of a horrific superplague that is the result of a deadly strain, the last known whereabouts of which was Lucy's father's lab. There is, of course, much doubt thrown upon him and his culpability regarding the spread of the illness, particularly in the wake of his suicide, which seems to indicate his guilt in the matter. The truth is more complicated, just as Lucy's own attempts to survive--to actually want to survive--have less to do with the illness at large in the world, and more to do with fighting personal demons, dealing with drug addiction, and attempting to keep her dysfunctional family afloat. She tries rehab, but the center soon is filled with people attempting to isolate themselves from the superplague. Her mother is strung out, her sister has emotional problems, and the man she thought--and thinks--she loves has married a friend of hers. As Lucy fights to keep an even keel, it becomes clear that the threat of the superplague is far from her greatest worry, and in some respects the idea of having her choice made for her--of some outside force ending her struggles--is actually appealing.This is an interesting book, but it was not easy to get into at first. Maazel has a very distinct, spare voice and I found it took a few chapters before I stopped going back and rereading to make sure I had not missed something. Still, enjoyable and definitely worth the effort. Particularly intriguing knowing that this is a debut effort.
What a funny book to be reading as swine flu becomes the hot topic of conversation and thats why this made it to the top of my too be read pile but the book was much more with a crazy cast of characters and energetic plot.
After starting this book, I wasn't able to finish it. I found it to drag on and on without really evolving into anything; the characters didn't have personalities that appealed to me. I just didn't find it worth while to take the time to read this book after reading the first third of it.
Lucy Clark is not a drug addict. She's supposed to be one, she says she is one, the author says Lucy is an addict, Lucy even goes to rehab for her addictions during the course of the book, but I never bought it; she just never [i]felt[/i] like a drug addict. Her being a drug addict is a prop, something that's supposed to make other things make more sense (it didn't) but not something that has any reality outside of that role. I wasn't expecting a stereotype of a strung-out, lank-haired, doorway-occupying, toothless junkie. Nor was I looking for psychedelic trips and grotesque hallucinations à la Irvine Welsh's [i]Trainspotting[/i]. I wasn't hoping that Lucy would get her comeuppance as seems to be the standard formula in US ideology about "rich people and their drug addictions." Truth is, I didn't have any expectations at all except for the fact that the author kept mentioning Lucy's addiction as if it was supposed to mean something. Unfortunately, it didn't. Nor did the fact of Lucy being filthy rich, having a drug addict for a mother, having a father who committed suicide, having a younger sister who came to hate Lucy, living in a world where bio-terrorists were trying to wipe out the US population with an unstoppable lethal virus, or her out-of-the-blue sudden rehabilitation. In fact, many of the things that happen in this book are out-of-the-blue and feel like an act of deus ex machina, not like an organic consequence of anything happening in the book. It all comes out flat as if there is no real force behind it, and hence it feels unbelievable even in the context of a work of fiction. Here's an example: the man that Lucy had hooked up with (sort of accidentally) suddenly declares at an AA meeting that he loves her:I've been living with a woman for a year or so now. Before that, I had barely spoken to a woman since my wife died ¿ But this woman I met, she got me excited enough about life to think about actually trying to [i]have[/i] a life¿ Now I just live with this woman and it's fine. I love her.p. 332This blind-sided me. I thought, He loves her? Why? And how come I never saw it coming? How come it doesn't feel real? I like to think that I analyze texts pretty well, just as sometimes I'm pretty far off the mark, but honestly the revelation that Stanley loves Lucy felt like the author's desperation to get the plot moving after having gotten stuck in a rut. I think it was Raymond Chandler who advised that authors facing a rut in the story could kick-start it by having someone walk into the room with a gun. This book has lots of moments like this, but they always turn out to be lacking in force or meaning. Maazel flips between present tense and past in tandem with chapter breaks, but these are not effective switches. I can accept this as a literary device but only if the author makes it work; otherwise it's an affectation.Perhaps the only positive thing I have to say about this book is that Lucy's voice is distinct. Maazel gives Lucy unique ways of expressing herself and unique thoughts to express, thankfully avoiding clichés but replacing that vice with another: the too clever use of language. It seems to be an end in itself, and it's more distracting and tedious than delightful. Though most of the narration sticks very closely to Lucy's PoV, there are occasional brief chapters in the PoV of minor characters, namely, the souls which represent the past lives of the main characters. These quick dips into the souls that have been reincarnated as current characters did relieve some of the monotony of the main storyline, and I understand that the title ([u]Last Last Chance[/u]) relates these past lives (and their repeating mistakes) with the current ones (and the possibility that they may actually do something right this time). In the end, though, it isn't enough to carry the whole book. It also struck me as pointless when Maazel spent a lot of time on the past lives of a minor character (the Texan seeking help for his uncle)