Lola Allen, a UK writer concentrating her creative energies in the urban fiction genre. Her collection of works are a comfortable, breezy read. The central theme to Allen’s stories is love and the impact the emotional ideal has on her characters psychologically and emotionally.
Her shorter works such as Pancakes, Disintegration, and Recluse explore how families are destroyed by the selfishness of one or both parents. Moreover, her stories reflects how the children are affected by the infidelities, divorces, and absentee parental presence or guidance. As these children feel the effects of a collapsing family, they began to do one of three things:
(1) struggle to assist their parents to fix the problem as the children in Pancakes try to revive the good times in their household by making their mother’s special pancakes.
(2) act out and/or accept abuse from others as the youngest child Nadine does simultaneously in the story Recluse, and
(3) attempt to shield themselves from the pain of it all as seen by Carl (Pancakes), Cerise (Recluse), and Marlon and Christian (Disintegration).
Love is a potent force as seen through these characters eyes and has the power to break a person’s self-esteem down as fast as it is built. In each story the reader can see women losing their desire to maintain their beauty or nutrition and even duties as a caregiver. The reader is sent sailing along many emotional spectrums with these characters as they suffer over an emotion that has been lost and one they would wish to recover. The fathers in Disintegration and Pancakes stories suffer from a shared sense of freedom lost and often act upon that feeling, whereas, Recluse finds himself locked out emotionally from his former wife and haggled by her when he attempts to see his children. His daughters can recall when the mother left him and how broken he had became over time.
Again I reiterate that love is a potent force, and in three of Allen’s other stories (Submerge, Data Recovery, and Captive) the reader sees how love can lift the spirits of someone. In each of these stories she uses interracial dating and ideal perfect beauty as a topic to be examined along with one’s exploration of feelings for someone in the dating pool. As Erika (Submerge) appears to be terribly insecure about her non-classically beautiful looks. She is shy about approaching an extremely attractive black man from the Dominican Republic while on vacation there. She is amazed to learn, over time, of his affection for her and acceptance for her completely. This same scenario is replayed in Data Recovery as Sam(white) is a computer geek who repairs cell phones. While repairing the cell phone of the incomparably beautiful Lydia (black), he falls in love with her and timidly acts upon an impulse to tell her his feelings. Lydia much like Erika was suffering from an emotional lows because of a previously failed relationship where guys from their own race had abandoned and/or took them for granted. Captive took a different spin as the main characters fall in love while under kidnap/hostage situation.
In her novella Waiting in the Wings, a quaint read where the main character Ayeesha is hopelessly in love with her best friend, Marcus, and has spent years of her teenage and early adult years waiting for the moment that she can have the one man she had dreamed of having. She believes in the possibility of love with Marcus and sacrifices herself time and again against seemingly impossible odds: his confessions to her that he doesn’t like dating black women; her memories of her parents bitter divorce and absolute fear of marriage; and her confession that she was always attracted to guys that were not interested in her. In reading this story, the reader must wonder if Ayeesha is so interested in Marcus because he is unattainable. Thus, giving her a reason not to invest herself emotionally with guys that adored her. Was Marcus a representation of the perpetual let down while other men were a potential buildup to the happiness that would lead to the big let down?
Is Ayeesha sowing her own seed for unhappiness because she has been emotionally shattered by a family divided by a tempestuous divorce? The reader again sees how Ayeesha is an extension of other Allen characters that views marriage as a bad change in ones life because of such early life events. This is especially true when Marcus confesses to Ayeesha that his fiancé saw her as a bad influence and Ayeesha recommends they terminate their friendship. As Marcus disagrees, Ayeesha admits to him that their friendship would inevitably end because his marriage would demand it:
“You’re getting married, Marc. There’ll only be room for one woman in your life – except for your mum.”
“I’m not gonna change … we’re not gonna change.”
“Yes you are … marriage changes people, I’ve seen it with my own eyes … you won’t be the same person that you are now…”
Marcus and Ayeesha’s friendship has to undergo a variety of events: Ayeesha’s random dating of men, Marcus and his fiancé’s arguments over their friendship, and an eventual moment where Marcus and Ayeesha are left clarifying their friendship and its future.
“Sometimes in life, the cards that life dealt one were unfair, but one had no choice, one had to make do with one’s lot.”
These words can best describe the story of Rhonda’s Revenge. Allen has confessed that this book was her first attempt at writing a novel and was written during her college years. It is an interesting adopting the familiar theme found within her works; love, family, divorce, affairs, insecurities, and selfishness.
In this story, readers are given a story situation where the main characters are initially in love, but runs against struggles because of their failure to fully disclose information to one another. We have characters that have fallen in love with the fantasy of love and marriage. Here, “[Rhonda] wanted a family, and she wanted it with the man that she loved; no one else would do.” However, the stumbling block was that Joseph did not want children. As this became an increasing problem within their marriage, the marriage itself begins to deteriorate.
Now Joseph is adrift and has a wandering eye that eventually becomes halted by an impressive young woman, Katya. As Rhonda suffers from the breakdown that has befallen many of Allen’s women characters. Her appearance becomes disheveled as her self-esteem dips as she waits in vain for a man to come home many nights; for a man to come back to a marriage he has long abandoned.
Soon Joseph is gone and has begun to build a life with Katya and Rhonda is left to stir in her rising anger for him and the happy new life he is building with Katya. A recurring man of spirits approaches Rhonda with an invitation to assist her and her problems. Rhonda wants her husband back no matter what and has the man to place a spell upon him that wounds up dividing Joseph and Katya and even giving Rhonda the baby she desired. However, Rhonda learns that all things comes at a price and she is confronted with questions she had never initially considered.
Finally, Lola Allen introduces people to her novel, The Heartless Game, finds Tamara Reynolds and Marcia Ambrose as best friends and roommates with different ideals about love. Tamara, in spite of a recent heartbreak from long time beau Tyrone, is a hopeless romantic waiting for that magic moment when love will sweep her off her feet. However, her friend Marcia is more of a cynic. She has taken to playing the field because she believes that love is a game for fools awaiting heartbreak. As Lola’s novel takes shape the readers learn the backstory to these two characters and their difference of opinions. There is evidence to prove that they are both right. Tamara has witnessed friends and distant relatives that found love, marriage, and fidelity; all the things she desires most. As Marcia has ample experiences to justify her theory that all men are dogs, seeing that she has never truly had a positive, healthy relationship and finding out that her friend Tamara’s boyfriend, Tyrone was seen in a grocery store, being overly affectionate with another woman.
Allen draws the reader in with more twists and turns as it is learned that dark secrets are lurking. And as those secrets between Marcia and Tamara unfolds, the reader is left to believe that Marcia may be sowing her own seeds for unhappiness in love, especially, when Tamara finds love with a reformed “playa” Ray-J. Marcia becomes an interloper and finds her friendship with Tamara in tatters.
In completing the set of Lola Allen books one will be entertained while coming to the conclusion that the ideal of love is left to individual interpretation. It can be a grand possibility for some while an impossible nightmare for others, but ultimately it is one’s choice to not only receive love, but accept the possibility that it may end. At that moment, one must move forward and become receptive to new possibilities, or suffer with memories of heartfelt, halcyon days that will never return no matter the effort.