So I finally read Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have a Family and I did not like it.
I meant to read this book for a long time – in part because I kept reading reviews like that! And then I didn’t until I saw it at the library and decided to grab it.
I was prepared to have my heart ripped out, to wake up with puffy, red eyes, to have difficulty moving on.
I could not wait to move on from this book.
June’s daughter, daughter’s fiancé, her boyfriend and her ex-husband all die in an explosion in her house the morning of what was supposed to be her daughter’s wedding day. After the funerals, she leaves town, driving as far away as she can possibly get. Each chapter is told from the perspective of someone in June’s life, or June herself; her boyfriend’s mother, his father, people in town who had some tie to them, the folks in the town where she ends up. Through their stories, you piece together what’s happened and I liked that about it. I always enjoy when a bunch of seemingly unconnected stories come together to form a whole.
Aside from the incredibly depressing tone of the entire novel (which doesn’t automatically detract from the reading experience), my biggest issue with this book was that the women spent their time beating themselves up about everything while the male characters found redemption and resolution. The women looked back on their lives, how they got to this moment, and tried to think of all the things they could have done differently, all the hurt that they’d stored up over a lifetime and used it to self-flagellate. The men, looked back and went “this is what happened, I’ve made my peace.”
How nice for you.
I was led to believe that it was the kind of story where everyone comes together to support those who are hurting. But actually they were all incredibly separate from what had happened and in one case, everything was made so much worse by the gossip spread about the character. All of the characters seemed to be an island unto themselves, forced to confront their pain alone and hope for the best.
It’s not a long book, barely 300 pages, but for me, it felt interminable.