The hunger to belong drives How to Get Into the Twin Palms
How to Get Into the Twin Palms
By Karolina Waclawiak. Two Dollar Radio, 192 pp, softcover
First-time novelist and Believer deputy editor Karolina Waclawiak’s How to Get Into the Twin Palms is responsible for both the best first sentence I’ve seen in a while (“I see a couple from the Twin Palms fucking against their car across the street from my apartment”) and for teaching me how to say bitch in Polish (“kurva”) and Russian (“suka”). In this sharply written tale of a fucked-up immigrant girl looking for acceptance, the vulgarity, without a doubt, fits in.
Our antihero is 25 and semi-unemployed (she’s a part-time number caller at a bingo hall), and obsessed with all things that remind her of her childhood home in Poland—a lot of infidelity and vodka, from the sounds of it. In the oppressively hot Los Angeles days, forest fires burn ominously in the valley, while Anya (a name she chose to sound Russian) spends most of her time plotting to get into the dilapidated yet exclusive Russian bar that is the Twin Palms, so her fellow Slavs can “ask me what I am”.
The easiest way in is on the arm of one of the men who take such obvious pleasure in the sukas outside her window; Anya’s pick is Lev, a tough Russian with prison tattoos. To catch his attention, Anya tarts herself up like the sort of woman he’d probably like back home: cheap pushup bra, dark hair dye, skinny cigarettes. (It works.)
Twin Palms is a visceral book about a painful hunger for a lot of things—including food (at one point, Anya describes carrot cake as “so good that it made me want to cry”) and sex (the shockingly bawdy old women at the bingo hall makes Anya realize “how I would need [sex] forever. How I’d never be able to escape it”). Of course, these things are stand-ins for Anya’s real hunger for belonging.
Waclawiak has created a complicated character in Anya—she’s selfish, shallow, ruthless, and often difficult to like. You know she probably won’t end up satisfied, especially not by the Twin Palms’ dubious charms. By the (totally cataclysmic) end of the book, she still doesn’t know who she is, and that ambiguity is really for the best. Despite all Anya’s flaws, I’m still rooting for that kurva.