Thursday, October 22, 2015

Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg


Did You Ever Have a Family
by Bill Clegg
Gallery/Scout Press, 2015
304 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads):
On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancĂ©, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And 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.

My thoughts:

What a pleasant surprise... Based on the above summary, I was expecting a depressing book, but Did You Ever Have a Family  turned out to be an emotionally absorbing, accomplished debut novel.

Short chapters told in multiple voices, each connected with those who died in the tragedy, allow for a gradual reveal of characters, backstories, and relationships. With each chapter, the novel grows in interest and complexity.

The initial voice belongs to a 15-year-old pot-smoking high school kid who works part time at a landscape business owned by the mother of the bride's boyfriend. Not exactly the type of character I'm particularly interested in or drawn to, yet he somehow pulled me right into the story and I just kept on reading.

And all of the other characters... alone, misunderstood, and yet somehow connected. Often impacting the lives of others in ways they can't even imagine.  Sad, but redemptive, too.

Did You Ever Have a Family  is a quick read. I devoured it in two sittings and loved every page. It was longlisted for both the Man Booker Prize and National Book Award.
“Rough as life can be, I know in my bones we are supposed to stick around and play our part. Even if that part is coughing to death from cigarettes, or being blown up young in a house with your mother watching. And even if it's to be that mother. Someone down the line might need to know you got through it. Or maybe someone you won't see coming will need you. Like a kid who asks you to help him clean motel rooms. Or some ghost who drifts your way, hungry. And good people might even ask you to marry them. And it might be you never know the part you played, what it meant to someone to watch you make your way each day. Maybe someone or something is watching us all make our way. I don't think we get to know why. Is is, as Ben would say about most of what I used to worry about, none of my business.”
My rating:

29 comments:

  1. That quote you included from the book makes it sound brilliant. I will buy it and read it one of these days.

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    1. Terra - It will end up on my list of favorites for the year!

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  2. I am STILL waiting on my number to come up at the library; it seems like I've had this book on hold forever. I think I'm now #10 of 18. You're the third person I've noted who loved this book and recommended it. Of course, you've just made my wait for the book more unbearable. ;)

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    1. Kathy - Library hold lists take forever... and then everything comes at the same time! Hope your wait isn't too much longer :)

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  3. I just received this in the mail yesterday, but it will be about #10 in my TBR pile. OR maybe I'll just move it up.

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    1. Debbie - Not sure what the nine titles ahead of it are, but this is an excellent book!

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  4. Glad u enjoyed it, I was happy I read it as well.

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  5. Sounds horribly tragic but brilliant reading obviously.

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    1. Mystica - The tragedy was horrible, but the connections seemed to make up for it.

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  6. Yay!! I'm so glad you loved this one! It's a contender for best book of 2015 for me :) and - you're right...it was sad as the premise indicates, but it's lots of other things too that balance out the sadness.

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    1. Sarah - This will be on my list of favorites, too!

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  7. Looks like it might be a great one to read right after my current: I am just starting The Elegance of the Hedgehog and it has a similar theme of finding reasons to go on (I think, still early)

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    1. Care - Some similar themes, for sure. The audio version of Elegance of the Hedgehog was excellent, but I always wondered if I would have stuck with it in print. You're reading, right?

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  8. I have heard so much about this book.

    This is something that I would like to read.

    It is so interesting that you did not find it depressing. It seems like it would be a difficult feat for an author to not make this book so.

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    1. Brian - I think there was just enough redemption and connectedness to balance things out. Hard to believe it's a debut novel.

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  9. I've been holding off on reading this because I thought it was too soon after losing my husband to read it. I thought it would be more depressing but your review has me thinking that's not the case at all. I'm going to see if my library has it. Thanks!

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    1. Vicki - There are so many sad people in this book and I'm very surprised I didn't find it more depressing. I think it was the theme of connectedness that made it work and seem worthwhile.

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  10. I don't think I would have been drawn to this book without your hints about how much you liked it. ("Enjoyed" might not be the word...) I have it on reserve and I'm looking forward to it.

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    1. Audrey - Well it's not exactly Barsetshire, but I sure did enjoy it! A nice change of pace :)

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  11. There was just something beautiful in this book. I loved it, too!

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    1. Patty - I never expected to find beauty after such a sad accident.

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  12. Ok, ok, digging it out from the pile. I really need to read this.

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  13. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one. I've moved it up higher on my 'ToRead' list.

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    1. Pat - I hope you like it. This will probably be on my favorites list next month.

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  14. I have this one in my library loot stack. I need to push it higher on the to read list.

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    1. Linda - It's wonderful! Hope you get a chance to read :)

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  15. A really good book - and not depressing to me.

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