It’s All About the Family in These New Novels from Senior Writers

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Count the ways
by Joyce Maynard

LORNA MOTT IS COMING HOME
by Diane Johnson

Reading a family novel offers a tried-and-true way of reckoning with the family we didn’t choose – a way to gauge our own trajectory alongside the predicaments of others lurking in family dramas.

This summer brings two new domestic epics by veteran novelists: “Count the Ways” by Joyce Maynard and “Lorna Mott Comes Home” by Diane Johnson. Set in different centuries, 30-40 years apart, both novels cut through moments of national and personal turmoil to examine the complex family web against the background of history.

Maynard’s novel, set in the 1970s and 1980s, oscillates between the past and the present. Her story plays against the history that has affected the private lives the most, such as identity awakenings, AIDS, violence against women, marital betrayal, the space age, the birth of the computer age. For the historical background to “Lorna Mott Coming Home,” skip a bit to the Great Recession of 2008. America during this period is very different from Maynard’s – higher flying, more accepting, more greedy, less idealistic. But despite all the changes, families still do family things as they have done for millennia – getting in and out of love, getting in trouble, getting out of trouble, having a baby, loving, then hating, then loving some more. For the two families in these novels—both white, both comfortably placed, separated by time—we see how everything and nothing has changed for this subset of the American family, despite the unique and vivid differences in setting and details.

Maynard’s “Count the Ways” is the story of Eleanor, Cam’s ex-wife, mother of three, a children’s book author. The novel opens with our protagonist returning to the farm where he once lived as mother and wife, before life tore the family apart. The occasion for a comeback is the wedding of Eleanor’s first child, Al, a trans man. As the wedding day progresses, the past takes up most of the novel’s space—it tells how Eleanor grew up, married, divorced, and found her own way through her parents’ premature death, a rape, marriage to Cam, life in the country. her young son’s tragic accident, divorce, jobs, her husband’s affairs, illness, family separations, friendships, flourishing career.

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