The stunning debut novel from bestselling author Bill Clegg is a magnificently powerful story about a circle of people who find solace in the least likely of places as they cope with a horrific tragedy.
On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is upended when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. June is the only survivor.
Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.
From the couple running a motel on the Pacific Ocean where June eventually settles into a quiet half-life, to the wedding’s caterer whose bill has been forgotten, to Luke’s mother, the shattered outcast of the town—everyone touched by the tragedy is changed as truths about their near and far histories finally come to light.
Elegant and heartrending, and one of the most accomplished fiction debuts of the year, Did You Ever Have a Family is an absorbing, unforgettable tale that reveals humanity at its best through forgiveness and hope. At its core is a celebration of family—the ones we are born with and the ones we create.
To this day, I am still amazed at how two people can read the same book and walk away with an entirely different take on it. Did You Ever Have A Family is one of those books.
First, let me say I didn’t hate it. I just wasn’t over the moon, as many of the reviewers seem to have been.
Although I did like Clegg’s writing, there were more points I wasn’t fond of. For instance, the number of narrators. There are at least seven, quite possibly more. Some of the characters (the main) are told in third person while others (the secondary) are told in first. That seemed like a very odd choice to me. First person generally lends to intimacy. Why would Clegg want that intimacy with minor characters? Edith, Rick, Rebecca are hardly mentioned except for their one or two chapters, yet they are the characters the author sets up for the closer emotional bond with the reader. The constant switch in characters also gave the read a choppy feel.
There was no dialogue in the book. I didn’t care for that approach to storytelling. Rather than to bond with the characters, I felt as though I was bonding with the author. His hand was too heavy throughout.
Both the story and the characters were flat, no dimension. At no point did I feel as though the author brought his characters to life. Reading it was much like me telling you about my Uncle Frank from Jersey. Unless given a reason to care about him, hearing about a stranger with nothing to make him stand out will bore you. Everybody has an uncle from somewhere, right?
One detail I wanted to comment on: several reviewers mentioned his use of punctuation and went as far as to say that reading this book made them think copyeditors no longer existed. One of the biggest complaints was that he often used semicolons followed by conjunctions. He did. But… as a writer myself and not just a reader, I get it. It is easy to be a punctuation snob when you are only considering the technical side of writing, but when you are sitting on the creative side of the pen, everything changes. Commas, for instance. Anyone can open up their copy of Strunk and White and point fingers at the use of commas within any given work. But as an author, we exorcise our right to be original. I, for one, tend to use commas less as they should be used (technically) and more to emphasize. I use them to set off a particular phrase, or to show a natural pause in speech (dialogue) that cannot be shown on the page as easily as it can be inserted into actual speech. I recently read a book where the author used no dialogue tags whatsoever. It was a bit awkward, I admit, but that was their style. If we are all going to follow the letter of the S&W book, we will all end up sounding like imitations of each other. I just wanted to point that out because I get it. Our styles are as individual as our methods.
This book received a lot of hype, and a number of nominations for prestigious awards. I’m not going to say it wasn’t deserving, but it would never get my vote. Although not the worst book I’ve read, kudos to the person who wrote the synopsis. They managed to put a shine on what is contained between the covers. Again, I did like Clegg’s actual writing. Add a few three-dimensional characters and a plot with substance; this might have been a memorable read.