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Did You Ever Have A Family


Did You Ever Have A Family

Bill Clegg is someone who knows a bit about life’s highs and lows. An incredibly successful literary agent, he has also suffered through drug addiction and recovery and written two widely praised memoirs about the experience. He has focused much of his previous writing on both darkness and resilience, and he brings similar themes to light in his debut novel, DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY.

The book begins in the wake of a tragedy that most people would find unimaginable. June Reid was preparing to celebrate the wedding of her only daughter, Lolly. But early on the morning of what should have been Lolly’s wedding day, Lolly, her fiancé Will, June’s ex-husband Adam, and June’s boyfriend Luke all die in a fire and explosion at June’s home in suburban Connecticut.

"The novel is filled with moments of sparkling prose and genuine wisdom, and its final chapters...offer some of the clearest and most wrenching descriptions of grace you’ll ever see..."

June’s loss is immediate and profound, of course, and her paralysis in the wake of this seemingly insurmountable tragedy is only overcome by her desire to get out of the town that is haunted by so many memories and regrets. Instead, she sets off more or less aimlessly on a solitary road trip, not sure where she’s headed until she’s practically on the other side of the country.

June’s story --- past and present --- unfolds in conjunction with those of many others, both known and unknown to her. There’s Luke’s mother, Lydia, who had become an unexpected friend to June before June, overcome by grief, pushed her away just when they could have been solace to one another. There’s Will’s father, Dale, who writes about his love for his idealistic son and his surprise about and eventual acceptance of Will’s love for Lolly. There’s Silas, a neighborhood stoner who may know more than he’s letting on about what happened the morning of the explosion. And there are three women who run the Moonstone Motel overlooking the Pacific Ocean, whose involvement with the story at first seems coincidental and then makes a sort of perfect heartbreaking sense.

DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY profoundly illustrates the ripples --- both anticipated and not --- that life and death can have on a family and a community. What seems at first to be a very personal family tragedy is actually shown to have much wider implications. Clegg’s interlacing narratives also consider the many ways we can lose one other --- through neglect, anger or fear --- long before the ultimate loss. And they question whether any of these losses, on either side of death, can somehow be overcome. The novel is filled with moments of sparkling prose and genuine wisdom, and its final chapters, narrated first by Lydia and then by a woman who, in her long life, has served as an unexpected savior of sorts to both Will and June, offer some of the clearest and most wrenching descriptions of grace you’ll ever see: “Here was someone she understood,” Lydia thinks. “Someone alive but destroyed. She knew she could do nothing to bring her own boy back…but she might be able to help this boy.”

Finding redemption through connection with others --- even connections we might not know about or completely understand --- is a powerful idea, and one that Clegg explores with both clarity and genuine emotion.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 11, 2015

Did You Ever Have A Family
by Bill Clegg

  • Publication Date: May 17, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
  • ISBN-10: 1476798184
  • ISBN-13: 9781476798189