Right Back Where We Started From

Written by Joy Lanzendorfer
Review by Fiona Alison

From the 1852 Gold Rush era to 1942 during World War II, this multi-generational novel speaks of regaining what’s lost and which you believe is rightfully yours to begin with. It’s also about dissatisfaction with life, pride, and hubris.

Urged on by his aspiring wife, Vira, Elmer Sanborn makes his fortune brokering mining stocks. Raised with wealth, their daughter Mabel makes a decision that costs her dearly. She marries a successful and doting farmer but is discontented enough that he gives her monetary freedom to build a magnificent mansion that collapses in the 1906 earthquake. She is left widowed and unfulfilled, with a young daughter, Emma.

Reinventing herself in 1932 Hollywood, Sandra (Emma) Sanborn is convinced her genteel bearing and the Sanborn name will make her a starlet, but she is thwarted by the sheer number of tall, thin redheads who have flocked to Hollywood. In 1940 Sandra marries a successful society photographer, but, determined his German heritage will not affect his citizenship, he joins the war effort. Sandra’s society friends, whose friendship relies on seeing their photos in Women’s World, slink off in pursuit of other prey.

Vira, Mabel, and Sandra are ambitious, demanding, convinced they are the driving force behind their husbands’ successes, and live in the belief that they are entitled to more than they have. Vira wants the prestige of a husband on the stock-exchange board and is willing to trade that for her daughter. Mabel covets an unaffordable status symbol and is willing to bankrupt her husband to get it. Sandra spends endless money on meaningless things, racking up bills which her husband cannot pay. There’s a sadness inherent in these stories, perhaps a lesson in humility. Weaving back and forth between the generations, the moral may be to be careful what you wish for.