Until recently, Lola Hart’s biggest problem was her annoying little sister. Now the twelve-year-old girl’s once comfortable life is slowly falling apart. Her mother is a teacher, but she’s lost her job. Her father is a writer, but no one is buying his scripts. It’s gotten so bad that they can no longer afford their Manhattan apartment or the tuition for Lola’s exclusive private school.
They move to a small apartment near Harlem, and Lola enrolls in public school—but the Harts aren’t alone in their troubles. Riots, fires, TB outbreaks, roaming gangs, and civil unrest have become commonplace, threatening the very fabric of life in New York. In the pages of her diary, Lola documents her family’s attempts to adjust as the city and the country spin out of control.
Jack Womack, a winner of the Philip K. Dick Award, has been compared to both William Gibson and Kurt Vonnegut for his vivid prose and unbridled imagination. In this novel, “Womack’s stark vision of the United States’s decline is an uncompromising satire that, perhaps even more than it did in the mid-1990s, forces us to confront a world instantly recognizable as our own” (Los Angeles Review of Books).
“A heartrending coming-of-age story. Flecked with black humor, this is speculative fiction at its eerie best.” —Entertainment Weekly
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Mama says mine is a night mind. The first time she said that I asked her what she meant and she said 'Darling you think best in the dark like me.' I think she's right. Here I am staying up late tonight so I can write in my new diary. Mama gave it to me for my birthday today. I love to write. Mama and Daddy write but I don't think they love to write anymore, they just write because they have to.
I got a new bedroom for my birthday too. It's not a surprise like my diary was. It's not a new room but the maid's old room. We had to let her go but I don't know where she went. Her name was Inez and she was nice but she never said much to me or my sister Boob because her English wasn't very good. Boob is my little sister and she has her own room now too. Her real name is Cheryl but we have names for each other that we've always used. Boob is her name and Booz is mine.
My real name is Lola Hart. Faye and Michael Hart are our parents. We live on 86th Street near Park Avenue in New York City.
Mama and Daddy helped me move everything into my new room this morning after my new furniture came. I have a new bed and new lamp and new desk and chair. I also got new sweaters and shoes and a dictionary for school.
I love my new diary the best of all my presents. I'd better go to sleep now but I'll be back tomorrow. More birthday treats then, Daddy says. I know he's telling the truth because his face gives him away when he lies. Good night.
* * *
Today is Sunday and tomorrow is President's Day and I have a wonderful long weekend to do nothing. Daddy took us to brunch today at Rumpelmayer's as the extra birthday treat he promised. Rumpelmayer's is all pink inside like me and Boob. I used to like it more than I do now, it's not as good as it used to be. Boob likes it but she's still a kid. We had ice cream sundaes and naturally Boob got extra hot fudge. Daddy wanted to buy me a stuffie but I'm too old for those now, I think. I'm twelve. Mama says 'That's not old at all sweetie not at all' but it is. I already have more stuffies than fit on my bed now anyway. Boob started crying because she wanted a stuffie but Daddy said she didn't have a birthday so why should she get one? Then he bought her one anyway a little brown rabbit. Mama called Daddy a sucker.
Boob is nine and spoiled rotten but I love her anyway. 'Kiss it Booz' she said and then when I wouldn't she held her rabbit on her lap the whole time we were there. It has fudgy ears now. She wanted to wear her My L'il Fetus pack when we went to brunch but Mama wouldn't let her. Aunt Chrissie who lives in California sent it to her as a Hanukah present. My L'il Fetus is a doll baby that fits in a pack Boob ties around her stomach. When you press its button it kicks her like a real baby would. Mama and Daddy don't like it but Boob loves it. She'd even wear it to school if they let her but they won't.
I hate babies. They're messy and squirmy and smell bad. I never want to have one. The more I write the more I think about what I want to write. I'm tired though. I have a lot of time tomorrow and think I'll write a lot more.
I never wrote you on Monday because I wasted too much time thinking about what I should write. I think years from now a diary will be interesting when you can read it and see what you were doing that you forgot about later. If I'd had a diary when I was five or six it would be something to read now. I think I'd be embarrassed but I'd want to read it anyway. I asked Mama if she ever kept a diary. She said 'Yes darling but I stopped and I'm sorry I did.'
'Why did you stop?' I asked.
She said 'I was a foolish girl.'
'Who said so?'
'My mother darling my mother always told me I was a foolish girl. All mothers tell their daughters that.'
'You never told me that' I said.
'That's because you're not a foolish girl sweetie.'
'I know' I said. 'If I never stop writing in my diary then I'll always know what I did.'
'Yes darling that's why your father gave you your diary. So you could remember how sweet life is even when it doesn't seem like it is anymore.' I wanted to talk to her longer but she was working on her résumés and had to get back to work so I left her alone. Daddy was downtown talking to a director. I was bored so I went in the bathroom where Boob was taking a bath. She was sitting in the tub trying to squeeze water out of her baby. 'You're drowning it' I said.
'I'm not' she said and splashed water on me. 'Don't get wet Booz' she said. I brushed my teeth. Boob started washing her hair and stuck her butt in the air so she could get her hair wet and when she did I goosed her. She jumped and hit her head on the tub and started crying.
'Don't be a baby Boob' I said. She yelled for Mama but finally stopped when Mama didn't come in. Boob's only really upset when she isn't crying, she's Niagara Falls most of the time but it doesn't mean anything and we know it doesn't. It only works if you don't know Boob. When she got out of the tub she smacked me with her towel but I ignored her and then she went away.
A typical day. Now I'm lying on my bed wondering if I want to remember everything I do. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't.
I'm sticking to my writing schedule much better now and here I am writing you again two days in a row. I've decided I'm going to give you a name so I don't think I'm talking to a wall like Daddy says he feels like when he talks to us sometimes. Your name is Anne, that's a good name for a diary and I'll never show you to anyone else. What I tell you is just between you and me.
Let me tell you more about myself Anne. As you know I'm twelve and Boob is nine. We were both born in New York at Lenox Hill hospital but our parents are from other places. Mama is from Los Angeles and Daddy is from Chicago. They've taken us to both places on vacation. I don't like Los Angeles or Chicago. They're horrible places and I'm glad they're burning down.
Mama was an English professor at New York University until they let her go last semester. She teaches 20th Century Literature when she teaches. Right now she's trying to get another job at another school but isn't having much luck. She also writes books and papers on what writers were really doing when they were trying to do something else, that's the way she explains it. Students aren't very good any more she says. 'Darling they're so dumb you want to pinch them to see if they're asleep. But sweetie they're so sweet too and they do try and they have so many problems you have to let them get away with murder sometimes.'
Mama says even when they read something they really don't. She says it's because TV erases their minds. But she and Daddy watch TV all the time. Daddy writes for TV. When she was still teaching I asked her if Daddy distracts her students. 'Oh darling he writes good things they'd never watch anything like that nobody does' she said. She misses going to work and I hope she gets to go to another college soon. Doesn't look good so far, that's what Mama says.
Daddy belongs to the Screenwriters Guild. He wanted to be a novelist but Mama says he's no Charles Dickens. He writes scripts for movies. They haven't produced any yet but he gets paid for them anyway. He's had shows on TV. Last year he made a lot of money but not much this year. That's the way it's always gone before. Mama and Daddy aren't so good with money I don't think. Sometimes we have more than they know what to do with and then the next month we'll be broke. It doesn't matter. Somebody always owes Daddy money but never as much as he owes somebody else. Whenever Mama and Daddy talk they always start talking about money if they talk long enough. They've been talking a lot lately.
Boob tried to put her silly My L'il Fetus on me tonight to see what I'd look like pregnant. I threw it on the floor so she said she was going to turn me in for child abuse. Boob can be so immature. She was fun to play with when I was younger but I don't want to play dolls with her now. It makes her mad but I can't help it. I love her but she's so crazy. When we had the same room she sometimes would crawl in bed with me before I went to sleep to tell me all the nice things Daddy said to her.
'Daddy said I was the best girl he knew' she said. 'That's what he told me Booz. The best girl he knew.' 'Go away Boob' I say. 'He's going to take me to the circus when it comes to town.' 'Good now go away Boob.' 'You want to go to the circus Booz?' 'I want to go to sleep.' Usually I have to push her out before she'll leave. Once she fell on her arm and we thought she broke her wrist. She was crying too much so I figured she hadn't and she didn't.
Sometimes even if Boob doesn't bug me I can't get to sleep Anne. Seems to me though I can if I write you before I try to sleep. That's not the best reason to write you but it's a good one. I want to go to sleep now, I think. I don't know what I want sometimes.
Today at school our gym teacher Miss Norris showed us a video about sex diseases. What can happen to you if you do. It was a heaver and my best friend Lori and some of the other girls got sick but I think they just pretended so they could go to the bathroom and smoke. It was really boring in school today. If it was spring we could go on the roof and play games. Last month it got up to eighty for a week and Miss Norris put up the volleyball net and we had a great time until it got cold again.
Boob and I love school. We go to Brearley which is a girls only school. Some of my classmates say they miss having boys around but I don't see how. Boys are really stupid and I don't know why anybody would want to be around them they're as bad as babies. Mama asked me last year if I minded going to a girls school and I said not at all, I wasn't interested in boys. Mama said 'Boys are awful scamps and worse my darling but you'll be thinking about them soon enough.'
'Why should I?' I asked her. She gave me a big hug and kiss.
'Angel that just happens and by the time you realize your error they have you hooked my darling because boys are very cunning that way.'
'Daddy was that way?' I asked her. She shook her head. 'Why didn't you know?'
Mama said 'They get more cunning as they get older my darling.'
I'm sure that's true but I can always outsmart them. I'd much rather write to you Anne than worry about what some stupid boys are doing. It doesn't make any sense to me. I know you understand.
At dinner tonight Mama and Daddy were talking. She was asking when he'd be getting money from the producers. Daddy said he thought he'd be coming back with a check when he got back from Los Angeles. He has to fly out there tomorrow to meet with them. Mama said 'Oh darling they're not hiring at Yeshiva they're cutting back just like the city I heard from them today.' They talked about tenure and why she didn't get it. I wasn't sure what they were talking about and Boob was hopelessly lost like always. Boob asked 'What's tenure?' 'Sweetie if you have tenure you're always a teacher no matter how bad you are.' 'Why didn't you get tenure?' I asked. 'I wasn't bad enough' she said and she laughed but later she took a Xanax and I don't think she feels very good.
Daddy never comes in to check on me in my new room and I'm glad. I don't want to be tucked in anymore. I was able to write as long as I wanted tonight. He was in with Boob for a long time talking but I couldn't hear what they were saying. Once I asked Mama if Daddy wishes Boob was their only child and she said 'Don't be silly darling he loves all of us.' Boob's talking in her sleep now. She jabbers on all the time. I can hear her through the door but at least I can sleep through it now. Our rooms are separate and I'm GLAD, GLAD, GLAD. I like having my own room. Weekend's almost here! Night night, Anne.
Today my friends Katherine and Lori came over. We almost always do something on Saturdays. They're my age and go to Brearley with me. I've known them since first grade. They're my best friends.
Daddy flew to Los Angeles yesterday and so Mama slept late because she knows I can fix breakfast for me and silly Boob. Sometimes Boob goes along with us when we go out on Saturdays but not today ha! ha! she had homework to do. It was so warm out today we thought we'd go to the park. Mama said to us 'Be careful little geese and don't go far past the museum. There's perverts in every bush.' Mama calls us geese but Daddy always calls us the vipers because he says we're always up to no good.
We went to the park and we weren't going to go far but Anne you know how it is when you start walking and talking. There were hundreds of people in the park and the next thing you knew we'd walked down to the lake around the ramble. There were men down there sunbathing in their bathing suits. One of them that was hairy like a gorilla gave another one a kiss. 'Look at them they're bendover buddies,' Katherine said. Lori started giggling. I asked 'What's so funny?' 'How do they walk?' Lori said. She meant with their things between their legs. 'You'd know,' Katherine said. Lori went out with a fourteen year old boy named Simon Norris last Halloween. He was a brother of her brother's friend. They didn't do anything, she told me. She said they kissed for a while and he tried to take off her bra but she wouldn't let him so he stopped. 'You'd know, Lori' Katherine kept saying. Lori said 'Shut up Kat you're so stupid.' They're always arguing.
I finished my Coke so I took the can and stuck it between my legs and walked around all straddle legged. 'They walk like this' I said. Lori fell down laughing and Katherine acted like she didn't know us. 'That's so disgusting' she said. She's a real prisser.
We walked back to the east side of the park because Mama says it's safer on that side. When we got ready to cross the road we smelled something burning. There was an ambulance and some people and policemen were standing by a tree and we ran to see what happened. Somebody set a homeless person on fire a rollerblader woman told us. Katherine got sick and said she was going to spew. Lori and I tried to see if he was all burned up but they already put him in the ambulance. 'That's nothing you want to see' an old man said to me and I wanted to say how do you know but I didn't. Katherine was all green and shaking but she didn't blow. Lori called her a sissy but Lori didn't look like she felt good either.
On our way back we saw some black and Spanish girls breaking bottles on the wall of the park. From the way they were laughing I just knew they set the man on fire. 'You're racist' Lori said when I told her what I thought. 'I am not' I said but she said I was. I think Katherine thought I was right but she didn't say anything. I'm not a racist but I'm sure those kids did it, I don't know how I knew but I do. When we walked by the homeless people we saw on 86th Street Anne I wondered how many times somebody tried to hurt them or set them on fire. Mama and Daddy always give money to homeless charities but there's still homeless everywhere.
We went back to Lori's apartment and hung out in her room for awhile. Lori and her parents live on 83 rd between Park and Lexington. Katherine said she was worried because her mom said she should be getting her period soon but she hadn't yet. Lori said don't be in any rush. When granny comes to visit me it's not so bad. I think I came out lucky, it only hurts the first day and then not anymore. Katherine says she doesn't want to use tampons, she tried to use one and it hurt. 'Then you'll have to use mouse mattresses' Lori said. 'No tampons for sissies.' Katherine got mad again but not for long. We listened to music and then I came home.
There wasn't anything about the man on the news tonight. I remember there used to be when they set people on fire. I didn't tell Mama or Boob about what we saw in the park because it gets Mama upset to hear about things like that. Boob gets so mad when I see something and she doesn't that I'd never tell her. So there, Boob.
Daddy's in Los Angeles. He comes back tomorrow. Mama said he called late last night after we went to sleep. I asked her what he said and she told me he sounded happy. She didn't say if he had his check or not. I bet he doesn't.
It was raining out today so I did my homework this morning instead of tonight. I'm supposed to read Silas Marner but it's so awful. Daddy calls it Silas Mariner because he says George Eliot must have written it underwater. I think if Miss Dudley gives us a pop quiz on it I can handle it but I wish we had other books to read in school. I read Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson again tonight. I've read it a dozen times before, I love it so much. It's all about this crazy family. I love to read stories about crazy families. Like I don't know any! Daddy says he knows people who knew the people in the book and they were even crazier than the book says. I wish I'd met them. We'd have a lot of fun.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Random Acts of Senseless Violence"
Copyright © 1993 Jack Womack.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Riveting, unique and heartbreaking. A great story told from the point of view of a 12 year old girl in an eerie near future dystopian NYC.
This book is about the crazyness of a world that makes its way in a teenager girl. Some will read it as a travel from 'have' to 'have not'. But I was fascinated by the alteration that the environment is causing on Lola's 'facon d'etre'. In my reading, she is completly lucid yet going crazy. All her references are changed and a world of accute violence develops around her: welcome to the world of a paranoid... yet she has reasons, the world is really after her. A must read, for its sensitivity, richness, emotional content, and an eye openner on a different way to see our world.
I think the headline says it all--this book is the incredible tale of twelve year-old Lola Hart's metamorphosis after her family is forced to move from a Park Avenue apartment to a Harlem ghetto. Womack pulls no punches here; Lola goes through Hell in order to come to grips with her new home, and it shows in her diary. Her recollections of bad days draw tremendous emotion from the reader; you feel so terrible for poor Lola that you wish you could help comfort her in some small way. Lola begins to question everything in this story, even her own sexuality, in this beautifully prosaic novel.
Why hang out with ur friends when u can be scuba planing in front of panda bears eating chinese tv sinners at the zoo and eat pater peeeeckls at the same time omg