Review of Better Luck Next Time A Novel by Julia Claiborne Johnson
A Girl With Glasses Book Review by A Reno Local
I discovered Better Luck Next Time on a whim the month or so after my (ex) fiance walked out on me after five years. I moved to Reno to be with him. Lesson learned. I had been reading every book on grieving, healing after breakup, self help, trauma and the psychology of relationships and decided that I needed a break. More than that, I had earned a break. And a break to this booknerd means relaxing into some fiction.
The cover of Better Luck Next Time grabbed me and I picked it up. Low and behold it was set in Reno and it focused on women going through divorces in the 1930s. It was serendipity, this book and I were meant to be. The title of the book is perfect and comes straight from historical fact, something a judge in Nevada used to tell women getting their divorces - something that I enjoyed hearing myself, “Better luck next time” indeed! This phrase certainly encompasses a bit of irreverence, hope, and sympathy all at the same time.
While I have a special affection for this book, now and always, as the first work of fiction that I held in my hands on my new life path, that is not the only reason I am recommending it. The main reason I have to recommend this to you is because this book is a delight. It is the kind of book that leaves you imagining things wistfully, wanting to read more about certain characters and time periods, and happy, emotional and still slightly bummed when you read that final page.
The narrator, Ward, is endearing, despite one too many times of describing women as “light” - a pet peeve of mine, and the main characters Emily and Nina, are enthralling and relatable, despite being insanely wealthy. The idea of having to live in Nevada for six weeks just to be able to leave a failing marriage is quaint and also from this vantage point, sounds like good old fashioned fun.
Ward works at The Flying Leap Dude Ranch just outside of Reno, NV in 1938. This ranch is a haven for women of means who need to get a divorce in the 1930’s, USA. Ironically, given my situation, Reno was known for quick marriages and legal divorce during those days, and heck probably still today, right? Sure feels like it! But I digress, this ranch sounds amazing. Women book their six week stay and are treated to rest, relaxation, meals, and handsome cowboys to take them into town to shop and meet with their divorce lawyers.
This made me happy for reasons I could not really explain. A community of women enjoying a six week vacation with horses, home cooked meals, a few nights out on the town, and handsome cowboys just sounds like a bit of a dream to me right now, I must admit. And apparently our Ward is Cary Grant handsome! He is also kind, helpful, and has this thing that sets us women up for a lot of falls - he listens to the ladies, puts their needs first, and - hang on to your hearts girls, he rescues kittens. It was almost too much!
Ward’s story focuses on the six week stay of a young woman named Emily, who drove herself from San Francisco to the ranch because she had had enough of her husband’s constant cheating, and Nina, who is a pilot and classic strong woman character, who is on her third stay at the Flying Leap. The two women are as different as can be aside from their unhappiness in marriage but they become fast friends and I am here for it! They rope Ward into being their go-to cowboy of sorts, which sometimes leads him into trouble.
Emily has a teenage daughter named Portia who did not want to come with her to the ranch because she was against the divorce and took her father’s side. Portia comes into play in ways that both frustrate and tug at the heartstrings of any parent who has ever had to endure the break up of a relationship when kids are involved.
Johnson writes with humor, empathy, and a respect for the complexities of human relationships. You will be touched by Ward, conflicted by Emily, and in awe of Nina throughout the book. And did I mention that there are kittens?
This book is in a word, delightful. I recommend it to anyone looking for a bit of an escape into the past when things like divorce, and I’m just going to say it, ladies you know what I mean, men, were a bit gentler, a bit kinder, and everyone took some time to slow down and enjoy a nice lemonade on the porch even in the midst of often hard and painful life decisions.