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"Same as It Ever Was" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider

Domestic bliss is something Julia Ames doesn’t have in “Same as it Ever Was,” a thought-provoking novel about love, marriage, parenthood and family life by Clarie Lombardo.

  No stone is left unturned in this comprehensive narrative about Julia’s marriage to Mark. Readers get to know the couple intimately as they progress from dating, to being newlyweds, then long marrieds, adjusting to a looming empty nest as their daughter Alma applies to colleges and their son Ben, 24, surprises them for a walk down the aisle they didn’t see coming.

  The story begins when Julia is in the grocery story picking up special food for Mark’s 60th birthday dinner. She’s taken back when she sees Helen Russo, an older woman she was close to in the past. It’s been 18 years since she’s seen Helen, since they met at Helen’s house weekly, their special friendship a boon to Julia, a young, overwhelmed mom with a toddler son. Helen was wise, more experienced at motherhood, having had five sons, all adults, when Helen and Julia became friends. At the store, the women trade pleasantries, updates on their lives, and bid one another goodbye, making no plans to meet again.

The brief interlude spawns questions, making readers wonder what exactly occurred earlier between Helen and Julia. Why does Julia feel the woman was a catalyst in her life? What is the secret behind their relationship?

As the story shifts to the past, readers get to know Julia as a young mother, a disgruntled dissatisfied individual. Is her morose attitude the result of adjusting to motherhood? How can she be so cold to Mark, a good man, interesting, supportive and obviously devoted to her? What is the key to Julia’s discontent?

While questions continue to arise, the author of this much-discussable novel takes her time revealing the reasons behind Julia’s unhappiness and her reckless decision to seek an escape that only serves to complicate her life, and negatively impact her family for the rest of her days.

Shifting back and forward in time, Julia’s present and past are gradually revealed in stunning detail—hints about Julia’s history and relationship with her mother, Anita, bait readers, planting seeds that niggle at us, perhaps Julia’s past will provide the “why” behind her  self-loathing.

“Same as It Ever Was” is a perfect choice for book clubs, the relationships in the book highly discussable. The characters are sublimely human and flawed, their motives complicated, especially the females. Julia has secrets, more than one, and Lombardo brilliantly holds us in suspense as she leisurely reveals Julia’s two heartbreaking bombshells.

There’s as much pain in this must-read as there is in real life—and as much healing too in a book that rings true as it examines individuals and the families they belong to.

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