Love, Loss and Los Angeles

“Through others we become ourselves.” ― Lev S. Vygotsky

Our narrator in Anna Stothard’s The Pink Hotel doesn’t have a name.  Her mother, Lily, has died and she has come all the way from England to California looking for closure and some clues about her mother’s life.  When our narrator was a small child, Lily left her behind in England and came to America to start her own life anew.  The novel opens at the raucous, drug-and-alcohol-filled wake at a hotel in Venice Beach and then takes us on a trip through some of the seedier spots of Los Angeles.  Looking to find something to connect her to her mother, she steals a suitcase filled with Lily’s clothes, photographs, maps, and some love letters.

Though she’s only seventeen, our narrator is street smart.  She is able to track down some of the men from Lily’s life and learn more about her mother, while managing to dodge Lily’s husband, who wants the suitcase back.  She’s a little bit like Pippi Longstocking, unabashedly (and a tad naively) going through the world like it was one big adventure; a little bit like Holden Caulfield, dissecting the situations she finds herself in, trying to find meaning; and a bit like Odysseus, going place to place, trying to find a home.

This is a book about loss, but also about creating a life.  As our narrator travels around L.A. looking for clues about her mother, she is also discovering her own identity.  Early on she tells us, “I’m usually very good at being invisible.”  She fades into the background and doesn’t draw attention to herself.  By the end of the novel, she has a better understanding of who she is, what she can handle and what she will put up with.  She doesn’t need to be invisible any more. 

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