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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Did You Ever Have a Family? A Novel

I am a big fan of Bill Clegg's two memoirs, so when I found out that he was releasing a novel this fall I ran to get it at BEA. I very thankfully snatched one of the last spare copies they had, and thank goodness all over the world that I got it. Did You Ever Have a Family was incredible. 

June's house explodes the morning of her daughter's wedding. The wedding was scheduled to be in the backyard, and June is the only survivor. She loses her daughter, her daughter's fiance, her ex-husband, and her beloved boyfriend Luke, all of whom were asleep in the house. Immediately after the funeral, June leaves and doesn't look back, living in a motel at the edge of the world. Everyone in the small town is still hurting from the disaster, and everyone has a story to tell. Told from multiple perspectives, the aftermath of the deaths affect friends and family far and wide, from coast to coast, from family to family. 

This was one of the most moving and stunning books I have read as of late. I know we get a lot of great releases in the fall, and this one just stole my heart and ripped it apart. First of all, I loved the different perspectives that tell the story. It provides a full bodied experience of a tragedy that could have very easily become melodramatic when told from just June's perspective. Having others look at June and interact with her and wonder what her story is heightened the heartbreak that you knew she was going through. Hearing from her and from Luke's mom as well as the fiance's parents also added a level of gravitas to the story, and it was a deep and searing reminder that when tragedy strikes, more people are affected than you might ever realize or remember. Arguably, June suffered the most, but when we lose a child or a lover or a parent, whether it's one or multiple, we all suffer deeply.

We follow the story out of order, after the fire has been put out and the house has been razed. We see June in her overwhelming grief and we see the small town in it's gossipy glory. As we begin to understand June's story -- because really, it's June's story -- we see what happened that day, moving through the muck of the gossip about Luke's past and the tangled relationships that come with family. The title comes from a question that a future in-law asks of her new relative. The question is, "Why are you crying?"

 The response is, "Did you ever have a family?"

Yes. Yes, I did.

[Thanks for the punch in the gut, Bill. Because while this question happened in the story's past, it's ramifications in the story's present could never be predicted and are heart-wrenching when you know the answer to that question.]

Clegg has written a stunning and arresting piece of literature that moved me to my core, and this novel goes to show that Clegg is a true and brilliant writer. His memoirs were equally moving, but this novel goes to show that regardless of the genre, this man is one hell of a writer, and I look forward to more from him.

For purchase below.

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