Did You Ever Have a Family
Random House UK, Vintage Publishing
Pub: Aug 2015
“It occurred to me that night and since that we no longer live in a town, not a real one anyway. We live in a pricey museum, one that’s only open on weekends, and we are its janitors”
Clegg’s debut novel is the story of the aftermath of a tragedy. Set in a small Connecticut town the central event is a wedding – or at least that what it should have been. A house explosion on the morning of the wedding of June Reid’s daughter Lolly kills Lolly, William, Lolly’s fiancé, June’s boyfriend, Luke, and her ex-husband Adam. Through June, friends, family and others who encounter June, we learn of what happened before and in the immediate aftermath of the explosion: how people look to apportion blame; how guilt and ‘what if’s ‘ can eat away at you and make the living seem as if they too are dead, at least emotionally, how selfishness and stubbornness invade us all; and about the power of grief and loss can starve us of life.
As is identified from the book’ s title this is a book that is about family – how we love, how we hate; how we are born into one family but then can also start our own; how families can make us strong, and how they can bring us down; how we are ultimately defined by them.
Whilst June has lost a daughter, a boyfriend and an ex husband; she is not the only one suffering. There is: Luke’s mother, Lydia, who herself had had a strained relationship with her son and can longer be reconciled with him; William’s parents; Cissy someone who knew William as a young boy; and Silas a young local stoner who had worked for Luke and is haunted by his own knowledge of what happened.
This book made me think back to 2013’s Booker longlist and Donal Ryan’s excellent book “The Spinning Heart” which also employed this method of storytelling (indeed as did his follow up novel) It is a method of storytelling , that if done well, as it is here allows you to see a bigger picture, you are not confined to one right or ‘true’ version of events. Like Ryan, there is a plainness to much of the dialogue and inner thoughts, but also a real sense of emotional honesty and believability.
Clegg, a successful US literary agent, has shown himself to be a talented storyteller – although judging by the praise for his best-selling memoirs this is perhaps no surprise.
Like Ryan, Clegg has failed to make the Booker shortlist, and as with Ryan I feel this was probably an error.
“Some tress love an ax … she disagreed and though instead that the tree gets used to the ax, which is nothing to do with love. It settles into being chipped away at, bit by bit, blade by blade, until it doesn’t feel anything anymore, and then, because nothing else can happen, what’s left crumbles into dust”
Review copy supplied by Random House / Netgalley