Day: October 21, 2015

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Posted October 21, 2015 by Taryn in Reviews / 0 Comments

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill CleggDid You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
Published by Simon and Schuster on September 1st 2015
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Family Life, General
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Buy on Amazon

Beautifully written, character-driven novel about families dealing with grief.

The house without sound is now loud with nothing, no one.

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life changes forever when an explosion kills her daughter Lolly, her daughter’s fiance Will, her longtime boyfriend Luke, and her ex-husband Adam. The victims’ families and the community struggle to put the pieces back together again, each in their own unique way. This book isn’t really about the event that killed the family, though that is addressed. It is about how the family and community cope with their grief.

Who had been fighting with someone they loved? Going at it long enough to unleash the irretrievable words they knew to say only because they had been trusted to know what would hurt the most. Words that cut quick and deep, inflicting damage that only time could repair, but now there was none.

The chapters rotate through a cast of characters. The story is primarily told through the eyes of the grieving parents, but there are also chapters from acquaintances of the victims and their families. I liked that the author included chapters of those who just barely knew the family, because it is interesting to explore how deeply affecting a traumatic event is for the entire community and it gives the reader a deeper understanding of the victims’ place in the community. There was usually at least one piece of information in a chapter that tied it to the next chapter, which really helped the narrative flow almost seamlessly despite the structure.

This is the pivot between youth and age, the thrilling place where everything seems visible, feels possible, where plans are made. On the one side you have childhood and adolescence, which are the murky ascent, and, on the other, you have the decline that is adulthood, old age, the inch-by-inch reckoning of that grand, brief vision with earthbound reality.

It is beautifully written. I never cried, but I felt a deep inner sadness and sense of dread while I was reading. This line from Will’s father, when he is standing on the beach with his family, killed me: “Shoulder to shoulder on that beach I couldn’t bear the idea of losing any of them. Yet I knew we would, one by one, lose each other. Life never felt so gifted.” The very last paragraph gave me goosebumps.

She is lost and alone and it does not matter. Nothing does, she thinks, not for the first time. She circles the idea again and again–that no choice she might make would have any impact on her or anyone else. Before now she would have felt exhilarated by the idea of existing without obligation or consequence but the experience is nothing like she once imagined. This is a half-life, a split purgatory where her body and mind coexist but occupy separate realities.

The characters were so human. I genuinely felt a pit in my stomach about what happened to them and the struggles they were going through. We never really get in the head of most of the victims, but I felt like I knew them and I desperately wished someone could save them from their fate. Most of the people in this book had tough times and difficult relationships, but right before the disaster they were all on the cusp of something great. It is devastating when all of that potential is ripped away in an instant.

I especially felt for Luke, who really had a complicated life and was perpetually a victim of small town gossip. His mother Lydia is probably the character I most wanted to shake, but she is so well-drawn that I couldn’t help but want for her to do better. I have known people who have dealt with grief the way she does and it really gave me a better understanding of how the deep need for connection can create an environment ripe for bad choices.

Rough as life can be, I know in my bones we are supposed to stick around and play our part…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. It is, as Ben would say about most of what I used to worry about, none of my business.

Tomorrow is never guaranteed; “All we can do is play our parts and keep each other company.” If you liked In the Language of Miracles or Everything I Never Told You, I think you would like this book!

Related anecdote:
Recently I was watching Grey’s Anatomy (Season 11, Episode 24) and this following conversation snippet made me think back to this book, especially Cissy’s sections:

Maggie: “I didn’t grow up like you. I’ve never lost anyone. I never even had a cat die. I still have all my grandparents. There’s no darkness in my life. Just…I’ve never had it. So I’m not going to come talk to you about it.”

Meredith: “Well, you should always come talk to me. Because whatever it is, chances are I’ve seen worse and I am qualified to tell you how you’ll survive. You should always come and talk to me.”