|Better Luck Next Time / Julia Claiborne Johnson|
NY: Custom House, c2021.
Now this was a surprise find for me -- I picked it up by chance solely because it was new at my library, and I read the back and it said "1938 quickie divorce dude ranch in Nevada...." and that's all it took.
I was familiar with the concept of Reno as the place for women to go to get a quick, no-questions divorce, after a 6 week residency was established. This was only because I read Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country about this time last year, in which women take their Nevada trips to while away the six weeks between getting divorced and marrying the richer catch.
Anyhow, this book was a delight. Wade is a Yale dropout, forced to that extreme when his wealthy family lost everything. He's now working at the Flying Leap dude ranch as a handsome cowhand (yes, his handsomeness is highlighted, he's noted as a Cary Grant in cowboy boots).
He has his routine and his life there, but this summer two women arrive and upend everything: Nina, a barnstorming pilot back for her third divorce, and Emily, who has left her cheating husband (and young teen daughter) in San Francisco and driven herself to the ranch.
These two become fast friends, and commandeer Wade to be their driver and escort whenever possible. And things develop in ways that aren't really going to end well....
This novel investigates love, friendship, marriage, money, parenting, adventure, self-determination and more. It's funny, bittersweet, thoughtful, and full of wonderful characters. The setting, both the ranch and the nearby town, is richly evoked and makes up a key element of the book. If you want to travel through your reading, take a trip to the Flying Leap -- you'll feel like you're there.
The set-up is interesting too -- it starts as an interview with an old man, kind of an oral history thing, and then fades back into the summer of 1938. The framing device does pop up again once or twice in the storytelling, and then again to close. It works, and it's a great technique here, if you relax and go with the flow and just believe that the dialogue and so on from the 30s is this clear. I recommend enjoying it and not worrying about that part!
It has an emotional heart to it, and the ending is perfect. I really enjoyed this unexpected read that was not on my reading list -- it jumped to my attention at just the right time, and was a very satisfying read.