Diane Johnson is a writer whose works bridge the gap between literary and popular fiction. Born Diane Lain in Moline, Illinois, she lived in the same house throughout her childhood. Her parents, Frances Elder Lain and Dolph Lain, always had books in their home and encouraged their daughter’s interest in making up “little stories” to tell. In one memorable incident from Diane’s childhood, her father, a high school principal, lost his job for revealing plagiarism by the superintendent of schools’s daughter. Despite this event, Johnson attributes her feeling that the world is orderly, or should be, to her stable childhood years. Many of her protagonists, who struggle to make sense of their world, share this worldview.
At age seventeen she enrolled in Stephens College, a two-year women’s college. At nineteen, however, she dropped out of Stephens to marry B. Lamar Johnson, Jr., a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, and move to the West Coast with him. There, she worked to help put her husband through medical school, had four children, and attended classes, completing her bachelor’s degree and going on to obtain a Ph.D. in English. Her dissertation was on the poetry of George Meredith.
Johnson was not sure when, or why, she first decided to become a writer. During the busy years of taking classes and bringing up children, she started a novel. She had become friends with Alison Lurie, then also a beginning novelist. From Lurie, Johnson gained encouragement about writing and also mutual support in the form of baby-sitting exchanges and other practical help. The first novel that Johnson completed has not been published, but her second, Fair Game, found a publisher without difficulty. Johnson admitted she might not have stuck with writing novels if she had received repeated rejections, as many writers do.
Her first three novels, all set in California, deal satirically with elements of contemporary existence, each featuring a woman trying to cope with life outside the safe boundaries of her upbringing. Loving Hands at Home is set in a Mormon subculture and Burning in the zany world of New Age devotees. With The Shadow Knows, Johnson takes a grimmer look at the floundering woman theme. Published as the...
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