The Lost Book of Mala R.
MacDowell’s novel tells the story of three California women in the present, each affected in different ways by the journal of a gypsy, Mala Rinehart. Mala was expelled by her Romany clan in the 1940s in Texas for the spurious crime of bringing them bad luck. Basically dumped at the side of the road, Mala sets out to find the woman who taught her to read (another crime). In present-day California, three neighbor women live in a charmless subdivision, hard hit by the economy. When one of them discovers Mala’s journal at a yard sale, they pass it amongst themselves, attracted to her sayings and spells, and they set out to discover what happened to her.
What MacDowell captures so palpably is the discontent in this Southern California neighborhood. Each woman has cause to feel alienated from her spouse and question her life. The mysteries of Mala’s journal provide both outlet and escape. Linda misses her life in New York and is forced to entertain her stepdaughter for the summer. Christine and her husband, struggling with fertility issues, find themselves estranged when he’s accused of murder. And Audrey, whose downsized husband seems to have divorced himself from reality, finds herself taking personal and professional risks she may not afford to take. Their problems are quite different from those of Mala, who is struggling to support herself and find a woman who was once kind to her. In truth, I found Mala’s story more absorbing than any of the California women’s troubles. I’m not sure that theirs were the right stories to contrast with hers. So, I’m left wondering how I feel about this book, and I conclude that as I’m still thinking about this, then MacDowell has affected me just as Mala affected Linda, Christine, and Audrey.