Arts and Entertainment

Bainbridge author Evison's ‘All About Lulu’ is all relative

Jonathan Evison with “Lulu,” his first published novel but far from his first effort.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Jonathan Evison with “Lulu,” his first published novel but far from his first effort.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Bainbridge author Jonathan Evison makes his hometown debut this week

The successful modern coming-of-age novel has a few key components. A narrator who’s a tad tortured and too smart for his or her own good, physically flawed but fundamentally lovable.

A doomed romance. A dysfunctional family.

Although as to that last, Jonathan Evison says, well, maybe. After all, “dysfunctional” is relative – what family, really, isn’t?

“I wanted to write a love story,” Evison said. “I wanted to write something that had the velocity of adolescence, and that described the state of the American family.”

Enter “All About Lulu,” the Bainbridge author’s debut novel, and one that’s been making the West Coast rounds since its spring release. Evison will introduce it to his hometown fans tomorrow evening at Eagle Harbor Book Co.

Lulu’s clever narrator, William Miller, exists in a family of aliens. His gentle, stable mother dies early on, leaving him in the midst of a championship bodybuilder father and two indistinguishable twin brothers, seemingly cut from the same well-oiled cloth as their dad, sincerely known as Big Bill.

Into the family’s life steps stepmother Willow, a “hatchet-faced but relentlessly kind woman who reached out to me continually, though I offered her little access.”

More significantly for William, Willow’s daughter Lulu also steps in, an irreverent, tender soul mate who is balm to William’s sad psyche in the wake of his mother’s death.

As the family settles in and adolescence ensues all around, the playing field changes. Lulu, William’s other half, becomes a mystery, an open field suddenly encircled by a barbed wire fence of murky, quasi-womanhood and shrouded sexuality. William is forced to figure himself out, himself.

“He’s got a bruised heart, and that’s what the book is about,” Evison said. “Even Lulu is just a shadow of a bigger shadow.”

Evison said he wrote Lulu’s character in reverse. As all the other characters in the novel – from muscle-bound Bill to the cleverer-than-they-seem twins – become less caricatured to both the reader and to William, Lulu is further obscured, until the final “reveal” emerges.

Evison’s work is confident, and William’s voice honest and clear, if befuddled by his own circumstances. And in truth, while “Lulu” is Evison’s publishing debut, it isn’t his first novel. He’s got plenty of efforts out back, he said, “buried, burned and salted.”

Bainbridge, with its present affluence and urbane sheen, is an interesting place for Evison to have grown up. His family moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area in 1976, and he knew he wanted to live a literary life after finishing Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions,” a gift from his father at the age of eight – yes, eight.

His third grade teacher, Mrs. Hartford, took note of young Jonathan’s propensity to bounce of the walls and allowed him to spend a good deal of his class time doing the one thing that seemed to center him: write.

What followed were stints in a teenage punk band, work as a para-professional working with special needs kids, and a nationally syndicated radio show in which he was none other than Johnny Seattle, among other gigs. As to the punk band, they were so proto that they kicked Stone Gossard, of Pearl Jam fame, out.

Nothing fit Evison the way writing did. And in “Lulu,” the autobiographical component is undeniable, resonating strongly enough that Evison said his brother is convinced he’s one of the characters. With a grin and a head shake, Evison insists it’s not true.

Okay, so William, like Evison, becomes a radio host, finding his center as a “disembodied voice,” as Evison puts it. And Evison spent a lot of time around gyms because his dad was a bodybuilder. But “nothing like Big Bill.” He didn’t lose his mom, as William did. But his family did suffer the loss of Evison’s older sister.

In other words, there was a lot to draw on. And he is “comfortable with the dynamics of a large family.”

“I come from a very Dickensian family – Dickens is my spiritual father,” he said.

Which gets back to the “function” versus “dysfunction” distinction. Whatever descriptor readers prefer, Evison has a theory that as edgy as “All About Lulu” is, it’s probably got excellent potential as a book club book.

“All the family stuff stirs up everybody else’s family stuff,” he said.

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