"Do you want to read something funny? Let’s say, a novel set at a divorce ranch in Reno in the 1930s? A book with memorably eccentric characters, sparkling dialogue, a satisfying plot twist, and some romance and sex? A feel-good literary comedy/western? Here it is, then, the book you've been looking for: Julia Claiborne Johnson’s Better Luck Next Time."—Julie Schumacher, author of Dear Committee Members and The Shakespeare Requirement
The eagerly anticipated second novel from the bestselling author of Be Frank with Me, a charming story of endings, new beginnings, and the complexities and complications of friendship and love, set in late 1930s Reno.
It’s 1938 and women seeking a quick, no-questions split from their husbands head to the “divorce capital of the world,” Reno, Nevada. There’s one catch: they have to wait six-weeks to become “residents.” Many of these wealthy, soon-to-be divorcees flock to the Flying Leap, a dude ranch that caters to their every need.
Twenty-four-year-old Ward spent one year at Yale before his family lost everything in the Great Depression; now he’s earning an honest living as a ranch hand at the Flying Leap. Admired for his dashing good looks—“Cary Grant in cowboy boots”—Ward thinks he’s got the Flying Leap’s clients all figured out. But two new guests are about to upend everything he thinks he knows: Nina, a St Louis heiress and amateur pilot back for her third divorce, and Emily, whose bravest moment in life was leaving her cheating husband back in San Francisco and driving herself to Reno.
A novel about divorce, marriage, and everything that comes in between (money, class, ambition, and opportunity), Better Luck Next Time is a hilarious yet poignant examination of the ways friendship can save us, love can destroy us, and the family we create can be stronger than the family we come from.
Johnson's rollicking comedy (after Be Frank With Me) sizzles, thanks to the immensely appealing voice of its aging narrator. Ward Bennett, a retired doctor now in a nursing home in 1988 Tennessee, describes himself as seen in a photo taken of him at 24, wearing cowboy garb and surrounded by ladies, as a "Cary Grant in cowboy boots." During the Depression, Ward took a job at the Flying Leap Dude Ranch near Reno, Nev. He was there to chauffeur, guide the women guests on trails, and dance with them. (Anything more was strictly forbidden.) Ward reminisces about two of the women: tiny, cautious, gravel-voiced Emily and a brash, six-foot blonde aviatrix named Nina, who takes Emily's teenage daughter, Portia, under her wing after Portia shows up unexpectedly. After Ward learns both his parents have died in a fire, and the ranch owners fire Ward for sleeping with Emily, he serves in WWII and finishes college on the GI Bill, then becomes a successful doctor. He realizes looking back that he could never have made a life with Emily (she assumes he's an ignorant "rube," despite his being educated and from a wealthy family), but he has no shortage of lively stories, such as the time he, Nina, and Emily get drunk on schnapps and steal costumes from a local Shakespeare production for a masquerade ball. This brims with the clever banter and farcical situations of a classic Capra film, and is deepened by dramatic scenes and portrayals of the hardworking ranchers. Johnson's novel soars.