Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
1/5/21; 288 pages
Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson is a highly recommended appealing, comedic novel set in Reno, Nevada in 1938.
If wealthy women wanted a quick divorce, Reno, NV, was the answer.
As the self proclaimed “divorce capital of the world" women were
required to live in the state for six weeks to establish residency and
then they could be granted a divorce. The Flying Leap dude Ranch catered
to women who needed a place to stay while waiting those six weeks. Ward
Bennett, 24 (almost 25), has been working as a cowboy on the ranch
where he chauffeurs the women into town or to and from the airport,
takes them on trail rides, and helps serve them meals. A good looking
young man, he is there as eye candy and to offer the women a listening
ear and supportive attitude. His employers and the clients have no idea
he actually came from a privileged background in Tennessee and attended
Yale for a year, but his family fell on hard times and lost everything
in the Great Depression. When Emily, who drove herself to the ranch from
San Francisco, and Nina, who is there for her third divorce arrive and
become roommates, the two become inseparable friends and rope Ward into
acting as their personal assistant, driver, and participating in some of
The story is told by Ward in 1988. Dr. Howard Stovall Bennett III
(Ward) is now retired and living in a retirement home. When he is asked
to identify himself and others from a picture at the Flying Leap, he
consents to having the anonymous interviewer record the conversation and
thus the story begins of that six weeks in 1938 when Emily and Nina
were at the ranch. Of course, life is complicated and a stay at the
Flying Leap was an emotional time for the guests but Emily and Nina were
memorable. I utterly enjoyed the story presentation as a first person
recorded narrative by Ward looking back over time. It allows us to see
the events that happened fifty years ago through his perspective and
experiences. Ward is a keen observer and honest storyteller as he
relates the events in 1938 but also tells stories of this life in the
fifty years after that. He is an extremely likeable, charming character.
The women were less genial characters as they all tended to be
self-centered and self-absorbed, but they are at the center of the
impulsive adventures instigated by Nina.
I enjoyed the writing immensely and flew through the pages of Better Luck Next Time.
The novel is well-paced and the plot is well-executed. After living in
Reno for years, I completely understood the setting and
the descriptions so the novel took on a life for me quickly. The story
takes a more poignant turn as it progresses and Portia, Emily's daughter
shows up. Ward is a well-developed character and we know some of what
makes Emily and Nina tick, but since this is through Ward's eyes, they
are enigmas at times. The ending was absolutely poignant, touching, and
heartbreaking while still providing a measure of hopefulness.