Oct 31 2015

Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg

Stunning and sensitive, this book would have been perfect but for the ending, which I felt petered out in a way that was meant to be philosophical but which just felt oddly disconnected given all the emotions that had filled the pages till then. I mean, honestly, I’d cried three times before even getting halfway through, with tears threatening again near the end (an awkward situation, by the way, when I’m waiting by the door to hand out Halloween candy,) when Cissy sees Will’s canoe. As I finished the book, I couldn’t help but want Bill Clegg to have ended it more strongly, on a crescendo that would have swept me up in another round of emotions. He chose otherwise and I can’t help but feel it let down an otherwise terrific novel.

Did You Ever Have A Family has a gorgeously complex narrative that reads almost like a mystery novel. Aside from the shocking, even scandalous events it recounts (centering on a woman losing her entire family on the eve of her daughter’s wedding, when her house in small-town Connecticut blows up,) it beautifully examines the feelings on every side of a situation, showing how meaning well isn’t enough, and how openness and honesty can go a long way to salving wounds, and how we shouldn’t wait to give of ourselves to those we know deserve our love. It was striking how sympathetic and complex Mr Clegg made all the characters, even the rather awful Lolly (and I really liked how he showed that she was objectively bratty without judging her too harshly for it.) I’m really looking forward to his next novel, which I can only imagine will build on the quiet triumph that is this one. Then, I hope, we’ll see something truly spectacular.

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