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Same As It Ever Was by Claire Lombardo

Literary fiction

Same As It Ever Was

by Claire Lombardo

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Quick take

Big ideas and big emotions drive this rich exploration of friendship, fate, and change through the life of one family.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, 400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Slow_Build

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Family_Drama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Marriage_Issues

    Marriage issues

Synopsis

Julia Ames, after a youth marked by upheaval and emotional turbulence, has found herself on the placid plateau of mid-life. But Julia has never navigated the world with the equanimity of her current privileged class. Having nearly derailed herself several times, making desperate bids for the kind of connection that always felt inaccessible to her, she finally feels, at age fifty-seven, that she has a firm handle on things.

She’s unprepared, though, for what comes next: a surprise announcement from her straight-arrow son, an impending separation from her spiky teenaged daughter, and a seductive resurgence of the past, all of which threaten to draw her back into the patterns that had previously kept her on a razor’s edge.

Same As It Ever Was traverses the rocky terrain of real life, exploring new avenues of maternal ambivalence, intergenerational friendship, and the happenstantial cause-and-effect that governs us all.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Same As It Ever Was.

Same As It Ever Was

PART I

Lost in the Supermarket

1

It happens in the way that most important things end up having happened for her: accidentally, and because she does something she is not supposed to do. And it happens in the fashion of many happenstantial occurrences, the result of completely plausible decision making, a little diversion from the norm that will, in hindsight, seem almost too coincidental: a slight veer and suddenly everything’s free-falling, the universe gleefully seizing that seldom chosen Other Option, running, arms outstretched, like a deranged person trying to clear the aisles in a grocery store, which is, as a matter of fact, where she is, the gourmet place two towns over, picking up some last-­minute items for a dinner party for her husband, who is turning sixty today.

This one is a small act of misbehavior by any standards, an innocuous Other Option as far as they go: choosing a grocery store that is not her usual grocery store because her usual grocery store is out of crabmeat.

Afterward she will remember having the thought—leaving the first grocery empty-handed—that such a benign change to her routine could lead to something disastrous, something that’s not supposed to happen. This is how Mark—­scientific, marvelously anxious—­has always looked at the world, as a series of choices made or not and the intricate mathematical repercussions thereof. Julia’s own brain didn’t start working this way until she’d known him for a substantial period of time; prior to that she’d always been content with the notion that making one decision closed the door on another, that there was no grand order to the universe, that nothing really mattered that much one way or another; this glaring difference in character is perhaps what accounts for the fact that Mark dutifully pursued a graduate degree in engineering while Julia neglected to collect her English and Rhetoric diploma from Kansas State.

Now, though, they’ve been together for nearly three decades and so she did consider—­just a fleeting thought—that so cavalierly altering routine could result in some kind of dark fallout, but at the time she’d been envisioning something cinematically terrible, something she wouldn’t have encountered had she just forgone the crab instead of driving fifteen minutes west, a cruel run-­in with a freight train or a land mine, not with an eighty-­year-­old woman assessing a tower of kumquats.

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Why I love it

To quote the band Future Islands, “People change/But you know some people never do.” I’m always fascinated by stories that explore people trying to turn over a new leaf, often haphazardly and imperfectly. Same As It Ever Was takes this theme to new heights. It is an epic exploration of change (and its limits) through one family.

Growing up, Julia Ames experienced every manner of trial and tribulation. Hers was a youth defined by turbulence and emotional upheaval with a bitter mother and an absent father. Music offered her an escape and adventure. But then eventually came young motherhood and a family of her own.

By midlife, Julia thinks that she has put all the tumult of her past behind her. She is now a librarian with a beautiful home in the Chicago suburbs. She has two kids and a doting husband. Then she runs into an important figure from her past and it challenges the seeming placidity and perfection of her present. Soon her kids are acting out and her marriage is rocky. We watch as they struggle between their pasts, presents, and futures, exploring ultimately what kind of family they want to be.

Claire Lombardo knows how to get beyond the surface of things into the messy reality of life. Despite its heft and big themes, Same As It Ever Was is a profoundly intimate story. If you are ready for a novel that will fill you with emotions and ideas, look no further!

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