At the start of The Lockhart Women, author Mary Camarillo introduces us to Brenda, a former stay-at-home mom, and her husband Frank. The two are driving erratically down a highway in San Diego, California to get to a party at a fellow postal worker’s new condo. Linda is described as single, with big horsey teeth—no terms of endearment for her! Turns out, she is Frank’s new love interest and before long, he wants a divorce and moves into Linda’s new condo. Change is a catalyst moving the story forward.
Frank and Brenda have two daughters. Peggy, brown-eyed and blond, has aspirations to finish college, but takes a job at the post office to help with expenses. Younger Allison, with red hair and green eyes, is a senior in high school and has a surfer boy friend who, although a respected athlete in town, is physically abusive to Allison.
The complications brought by the subsequent behavior of these two daughters may seem exasperating over time, but each of the Lockhart women is caught in her own desperate search for a definition of women’s roles in the mid-nineties. In the backdrop, the reader hears the constant stream of OJ Simpson’s trial and ultimate acquittal for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman.
There is a touching moment when the three Lockhart women are at home and Camarillo writes, “When they get home, the television is off, and Brenda has actually showered and put on a sundress. Allison chops veggies as Brenda mixes salad dressing. When she offers to light the barbecue, Brenda grins. ‘Thanks dear. Us Lockhart women are resourceful, right? We’re doing just fine on our own.’”
A reader may get a different picture though, as drinking, drugs, stealing, an unexpected pregnancy, lies, selling the house, and forgotten goals threaten to swallow the family whole. Their resources seem both limited and detrimental in propelling them forward toward self-sufficiency.
Mary Camarillo’s writing style is fluid with description. It reads almost like a screen play as the reader is able to imagine a 360-degree view of everything going on at any time. Small details of place become integral to each chapter and may seem overwhelming at times. The author has a knack for presenting the challenges and triumphs facing American working-class families.
The novel has many characters and is told by an omniscient narrator. Camarillo does not lecture her readers; she merely exposes her characters’ vulnerabilities. She uses a style of narration, snarky at times, that slips only once into first person.
Willa Cather once wrote, “The end is nothing. The road is all.” Mary Camarillo’s novel turns that expression on its ear, for it is only at the end of her novel that a reader finds a sense of renewed hope for the Lockhart women. Until then, their horizons are shrouded by lack of direction, poor choices, unfortunate circumstances, and lack of funds. What remains for them, however, is a landscape of love shaped by family, in whatever twentieth-century form that takes.
This is a story for mothers or daughters on the verge of losing hope. Its raw honesty and unadulterated accounting may make some younger readers reconsider how their light is spent. It may remind mothers of the amazing redemptive power of family.