by Karolina Waclawiak
You must forgive me; I read this book several months ago, and the review kept getting pushed around my writing to-do list, since I've been slow about that list in general and I prioritized review copies. Yet, I didn't want to slough off writing about How To Get Into The Twin Palms because it's a really great book.
Anya is a Polish-born, American-assimilated 25 year old living in Los Angeles. "Mimicry is what I was good at," she says. Every night, she watches the Russian men and women who frequent the club the Twin Palms. The women wear pearls and sometimes fur coats, and the men park their cars on her street. She watches them from her balcony, and she desperately wishes to know their world.
I keep whistling at the Russian men and so far that has not worked. I spend evenings walking back and forth past the Twin Palms. Now some men nod at me from the front and stare at my ass from the back. My new slim black pants accentuate my hips and elongate my legs. They seem to like that. My dark hair makes my eyes more cat-like and brighter in hue. More Eastern European. Less American. I am starting to make sense to them. I am taking off all my American skin. Killing my ability to pass for Middle American and quiet and from here. Instead I am from the bloki again. Soviet-built and dooming.
Eventually, she meets Lev, a seemingly nondescript yet irresistible Russian man, and she begins courting him in a subtle way. He knows she's Polish, but he finds her interesting. Different from his regular life.
Her only job she currently has is running bingo at a Russian Orthodox church in Hollywood, so she has a lot of time on her hands to wait for him, to go back and forth about wanting him, to consider her life.
When we finished, he rolled over and wouldn't look at me. I stared at his back. It was fleshy and white and reminded me of the underside of a whale. He had faint stretch marks above his ass and his ass was hairy. He wasn't turning around and I had to focus on something. There were a few pimples as well. I began to wonder if I had pimples on my ass too. I could hear him snoring lightly and felt that our fucking didn't warrant a nap. It wasn't hours. Or even half an hour. It was more like 20 minutes.
What is very good about Waclawiak's writing is that it is so right on with the details — the 100 degree heat, the texture of clothes, the smells around Anya. Especially the smells: onions, cologne, sourness, sweat, fire in the air. Lev is not some charming, Viggo-in-Eastern-Promises sort of Russian, or anything else all that romanticized. Her description of him is that of an ordinary man. The Twin Palms carries the romance; Lev is merely the key, a tool for Anya to maybe no longer feel so disconnected from her own life. The ashy haze around the city might as well be her mindset. Her desire to be special and included consumes everything else.
How To Get Into The Twin Palms, in a way, is an atypical mystery novel. Though we know what Anya wants, everything else isn't clear and we are left to make our own conclusions. I like that it isn't tidy, but like life, which is to say sometimes sad and always full of desire. I'm so very glad I read it.
Full Disclosure: I won this book through a giveaway on The Next Best Book Club.