Did you ever have a family: review

Did you ever have a family
Bill Clegg
Gallery/Scout Press

We know from the outset that June Reid loses daughter Lolly and her fiance, as well as her ex-husband and boyfriend Luke in a horrific accident on the eve of Lolly’s wedding. Any mother, of course, would be devastated and June is no different. But far from losing control in her grief, June becomes an automaton after the tragedy, disengaged even from mourners who try to comfort her. Then, almost before the casseroles have had time to cool after did you ever have a familythe wake, June sets off across country, alone. Where, we don’t know–she has only the clothes on her back and the keys in the ignition. And memories.

The night of the accident had ended badly. June and Luke argue. Lolly confronts June with childhood disappointments. It’s messy, as families who fall apart and reassemble themselves often are. There’s unfinished business between them all–and then because of the tragedy there’s no chance to make it right

I expected a novel that begins with four deaths to be profoundly sad. But it wasn’t.

What follows is a slow unraveling of the years that preceded–each of the victims had suffered some sort of betrayal (either their own or another’s) and endured the consequences: adultery, divorce, estrangement, even prison. Author Bill Clegg gives us their stories and shows us people whose painful experiences became the proving ground for building new–and more satisfying–lives.

There are many back stories to keep track of–even the housekeeper at the motel where June finally settles has a story here–and that might be off putting to some readers. But follow them all, and I think Clegg will reassure you that some sort of resolution can usually be found on the other side of hardship.

Those of us who have become separated from family, those who have lost trust in a loved one or have experienced betrayal (myself included) will find a kind of quiet hope that life opens more doors than it closes–that life might never be perfect, but it can certainly be better.

Bill Clegg’s novel Did You Ever Have a Family will stay with you, it’s that good. Read it when you’ve time to sit with the characters and listen.

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