cover image Same as It Ever Was

Same as It Ever Was

Claire Lombardo. Doubleday, $30 (512p) ISBN 978-0-385-54955-4

Lombardo (The Most Fun We Ever Had) returns with the pitch-perfect tale of a complicated friendship and the fallout from an extramarital affair. Julia Ames, 57, is a married mother of two living in a Chicago suburb. While grocery shopping for her husband’s 60th birthday dinner, she encounters an older woman named Helen Russo, one of the “small handful of people whom she has truly hoped to never encounter again.” Julia first met Helen 20 years earlier in the botanic garden where she used to take her first child, Ben, when he was three. Back then, in her “pre-Helen energy,” Julia was a “hollow-eyed, socially inept young mom” who cried easily. Helen, a wealthy retired attorney and mother of five, took Julia and Ben under her wing, welcoming them into her charmingly messy “Capital-H Home,” where people were cheerfully discerning about wine and casually referenced their distinguished forebears. Julia, who came from modest means and was estranged from her mother, was enchanted. Lombardo effortlessly flits from Julia’s present-day party preparations and other family occasions—Ben’s wedding, her daughter’s departure for college—to flashbacks of the women’s burgeoning friendship, slowly building to the reason for its dissolution two years after it began: Julia’s affair with Helen’s 29-year-old son, Nathaniel, who had the “biceps of a Renaissance sculpture.” Lombardo is compulsively readable and consistently funny, and it’s impossible to look away as Julia continues to self-sabotage. This domestic drama hits all the right notes. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (June)