Book review of Same as It Ever Was by Claire Lombardo

Julia Ames is shopping for her husband’s 60th birthday party, on the hunt for ingredients that were out of stock at her regular grocery store. It seems like an ordinary task, traveling two towns over for crab meat—until Julia spots in the aisles the one woman whom she intended to avoid for the rest of her life.

Helen Russo was a volunteer at the botanic garden when the two women met about 20 years earlier. At the time, Julia was struggling to find ways to fill the days with her young son. She had never felt completely at ease in life, although meeting her husband made her feel tethered in a way she didn’t feel with her mother, who had raised Julia on her own. After becoming a mother herself, Julia  loved her son madly, but she felt the impact of her early loneliness: “She’d never had a proper set of tools, but it had mattered less before; now there were others involved.”

Since giving birth, Julia had been adrift, and everything seemed too much. Helen—older than Julia by two decades, more experienced as the mother of five grown sons—recognized what the younger woman needed and quickly befriended her.

Now, running into Helen in the grocery store sends Julia’s mind racing back to those early days of motherhood and decisions that nearly destroyed her marriage. Told in chapters alternating past and present, Same as It Ever Was explores the challenges of motherhood and of being mothered. As in her New York Times bestselling debut, The Most Fun We Ever Had, novelist Claire Lombardo dives deeply into her characters’ lives to mine the family dynamics that shaped them.

Lombardo peels away years of secrecy to reveal the choices that led Julia to—and then away from—her defining friendship with Helen. The reader gets to know Julia not only as a nearly 60-year-old mother of adult children and earlier as a struggling new mother, but also as a teenager with her own difficult, tumultuous mother. As Lombardo draws back the curtain on Julia’s past, the parallels to her present life become clear. Same as It Ever Was is an engrossing story of maternal complexity and a reminder of the myriad ways the past can quietly inform the present.

Claire Lombardo finds “difficult characters much more interesting”: Read our Q&A with the author about Same as It Ever Was.

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