July 2021

Lorna Mott Comes Home

By Diane Johnson
Review by
Diane Johnson’s return to American fiction, 13 years after her last novel, will be welcome news to fans of her leisurely writing style.
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Just as the protagonist of Lorna Mott Comes Home returns to the United States after 18 years in France, author Diane Johnson returns to fiction 13 years after her last novel, Lulu in Marrakech. But while Johnson’s reemergence will be welcome news to fans of her leisurely writing style, the reception to Lorna Mott’s San Francisco homecoming varies among the book’s characters.

Art historian Lorna lands stateside at the time of “the handsome new president, Obama.” She has left her second husband, Armand-Loup, and his “wild infidelity” back in their French town of Pont-les-Puits. As Johnson memorably shows, the U.S. has changed during Lorna’s absence. Astronomical property prices and increased homelessness are two of many manifestations of a widening wealth chasm.

Lorna’s three grown kids from her first marriage are also different. Divorced Peggy makes crafts such as personalized dog collars to make ends meet. Ex-hippie Hams and his pregnant wife, Misty, struggle financially. Curt had “a thriving software enterprise” until a bike accident put him in a five-month coma. He’s now in Southeast Asia, trying to find himself. Complicating the picture further are Lorna’s first husband, Ran; his wife, Amy, “a Silicon Valley millionairess”; and their daughter, 15-year-old Gilda, who gets pregnant by a Stanford-bound 20-year-old.

Sound complicated? It is, but delightfully so, and that’s before an unusual complexity: In Pont-les-Puits, mudslides dislodge the bones of people interred in a cemetery, including those of an American painter. French authorities have named Lorna as the painter’s next of kin and would like for her to pay for his reinterment.

Lorna Mott Comes Home takes time to develop its characters, much like the works of Henry James and Edith Wharton, the comedy-of-manners forebears to whom Johnson is often compared. But admirers will savor the ease with which Johnson moves from one storyline to the next. 

Early in the novel, Lorna gives a poorly received lecture on medieval tapestries that had “a romantic history of being lost, hidden, forgotten through the centuries.” That’s the poignant essence of this novel. Like those tapestries, a life is fragile and vulnerable to being forgotten, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful.

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Lorna Mott Comes Home

Lorna Mott Comes Home

By Diane Johnson
ISBN 9780525521082

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