Lorna Mott has had enough of her French husband’s unfaithfulness. Her decision is final: she will divorce Armand-Loup and return to San Francisco. She understands the difficulties she will face but believes she can revive her professional career. Lorna Mott is going back to the United States; nothing is impossible.
Anchored on the measured insights and singular humor of Diane Johnson, Lorna Mott Comes Home is a fascinating look at families struggling to live better lives right before the Great Recession. Her effortless plotting shines as each chapter progresses despite juggling a dozen characters. But it is the gentle satirical thread wrapped around her prose that makes Lorna Mott Comes Home must-read.
Lorna Mott Dumas left her second husband Armand-Loup and returned to California. She is determined to restart her career as an art lecturer. But first, she needs to find an affordable house.
Lorna has three adult children from her first marriage: Peggy, Curt, and Hams. Divorced like her mother, Peggy and her daughter Julie struggle to make ends meet. Julie could use some cash to fund her dreams of going to Greece. Curt, the second of the Mott children, is the golden child. That is until he slipped into a coma, woke up, and disappeared in Thailand. Left to deal with his children and mortgage is his wife, Donna. Hams, an old hippie, is the youngest of the Mott siblings. He and his wife Misty are expecting a child. The couple cannot afford a new house, but Misty hopes to move somewhere else before giving birth.
The father of the Mott siblings is Ran or Randall. He is married to a tech millionaire, Amy, and has a diabetic daughter named Gilda. Speaking of Gilda, she might be pregnant. Ian might be the father. Should Ian tell his mother, Ursula? Ursula, a real estate agent, has her hands full. But she still has time to add another client named Lorna.
The point of the novel is simple: prepare for a life full of surprises.
It is rather clever of Johnson to lean on this idea as she pulled the rug under her readers. It is not about the separation of Lorna from her second husband, but rather, the problems of her children and her first husband. She came to rebuild her life and ended up mothering her adult children — her ongoing divorce, almost a background noise. If it isn’t a metaphor...
The other noise pervading throughout the book is uneasiness - an eerie calm before the proverbial storm. Despite the humor, Johnson managed to conjure dread because of her chosen setting.
One of the reasons for the Great Recession is the failure to arrest toxic mortgage lending. Following the 9/11 attack at the World Trade Center, the U.S. Federal Reserve lowered the interest rate to maintain economic balance. Homeownership was encouraged. People started taking out mortgage loans — and second mortgage loans — leading to a real estate boom. Then the inevitable happened: an economic collapse. People lost their jobs and their homes.
That precarious period before the collapse is the setting of Lorna Mott Comes Home.
From there, Johnson unpacked one topic after another with precision: adolescent diabetes, the dot-com bubble, extramarital affair, tech startups, homelessness, senior dating, and the list goes on.
Reading Lorna Mott Comes Home is comparable to chatting up with a friend. You asked her if she is doing fine. She nods and mentions her break-up. Then she talked about the problems of other friends. You listen to her because it is fascinating. You wonder if she is still heartbroken, but she keeps talking. You start to forget about the break-up. Then it all ends.
Did she talk about the problems of other people so she will forget about hers?
Diane Johnson, 86, mapped out a delicious plot and juggled a dozen characters in her 18th novel. She never skipped a beat.