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Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
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Did You Ever Have a Family (2015)

by Bill Clegg

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7277312,906 (4.01)114
  1. 10
    The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (vwinsloe)
    vwinsloe: A book about trauma, guilt and complicated grief. The effect of secrets and drugs on lives and families.
  2. 00
    The Untelling by Tayari Jones (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: The characters in these novels are haunted by the sudden accidental deaths of family members. Dealing with grief and survivor's guilt, they slowly learn to bear the pain and find new meaning in life. Both are bittersweet and haunting stories.… (more)
  3. 00
    The Shore by Sara Taylor (charl08)
    charl08: Similar style of linked narration by different members of a community, with convincing distinctive voices, dealing with theme of family.
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Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
I enjoyed Clegg's writing. I did not care for the story structure. There were simply too many points of view and too many time lines to keep track of. Although it all came together at the end, too often I had to go back to check on a character's name and importance to the story since each paragraph is set out by character. The themes, especially how racism can literally destroy a family's home were well told. In fact, one can say that a premise of the story is that racism perpetuates lies that destroy people's families. While I loved the premise and the themes, and even the way the author handled them, the structure was so confusing I deducted two stars from an otherwise well-written novel. ( )
  ErinDenver | Jun 12, 2017 |
I was not overly impressed by this much-praised book. I heard the author interviewed on a NY Times books podcast and both he and the story drew my interest and provoked me to borrow the book from my local library. The book has received a lot of praise and award nominations and so maybe my expectations were very high. Perhaps it's my age or early dementia, but I found the cast of characters and interweaving stories to be a little too complicated and disjointed for a large part of the book. The multiple-narrators approach, although contributing positively in some ways, also seemed to me to add an element of complexity that detracted from the overall story. Maybe there were too many voices? I reckon Clegg's editor should have advised him to simplify the plot and focus more on building up the depth of individual characters. It probably didn't help that I'm not a big fan of mystery in novels. It was apparent very early on in the book that there was more to the story of the family tragedy than was being revealed, but the book didn't make me feel as though I needed to find out those details. Towards the end of the book it seemed as though the story was continuing just to wrap up those loose ends. ( )
  oldblack | May 25, 2017 |
June has lost everyone important to her in a house fire – her daughter, her daughter’s finance, her ex-husband and her boyfriend Luke. She is left stunned and numb. Her way of dealing with her grief is to get out of town and away from everyone she knows.

June is not the only person dealing with grief and loss. Luke’s mother, Lydia, is dealing with the loss of her son in her own way. She’s a pariah in her own town for the fact that Luke is the product of her affair with a black man while she was married to a white man. She’s white too so it was obvious when Luke was born that Lydia’s husband was not the father. To everyone in town, this is evidence that she is a loose woman. Feeling alone, she strikes up a friendship with Winton, the con-artist who keeps calling wanting her to send him a $745 processing fee so he can send her the three million dollar lottery payout she has supposedly won.

The narrative alternates between several characters whose lives all intersect in some way. All of the characters are well-developed. In addition to exploring how different people deal with grief, there is the mystery of what caused the house to explode. Did Luke cause the explosion like everyone assumes or was it something else?

This book was a selection for my book club [side note – I joined a book club at my church that has been meeting for FORTY years] and it turned out to be a great choice. We talked a lot about how both June and Lydia processed their grief. And why did they make the choices they made in life, both before and after the fire? We also all agreed that there were so many characters that it was hard to keep them all straight at first. Some people made notes to keep track of who was who. Not a bad idea!

This is definitely not a feel-good novel but it is a wonderful exploration of grief and family. ( )
  mcelhra | May 24, 2017 |
At first, I rejected this book because in the opening chapters -- the main character, June, looses her entire family in a horrific home accident, and with the cruelest twist of all - on the eve of her daughter's wedding. I closed the book thinking, well this is just too sad for me today.

But then I read that Did You Ever Have a Family was nominated for both the Man Booker Prize and National Book Award and reviewers were using words such as "wondrous, eloquent and beautifully nuanced". I decided to give it a another go. I vowed to give it four or five chapters this time.

That did it, I was totally captured -- caring so much about the characters that I couldn't stop reading. Yet, I found myself reading slowly to fully absorb the language and the wisdom within its pages. But, be prepared, Did You Ever Have a Family is unusual -- beyond just the missing question mark in the title -- very little happens in the present and there is only a smattering of dialogue.

Mr. Clegg guides us through the devastation a tragedy brings to a small community and how the pain can spatter far and wide. With each chapter, he allows those effected to open their hearts.

Each character slowly reveals their memories and accounts. Everyone is linked, some in minor ways -- others with strong connections. And it's these connections that the author deftly weaves together into a bittersweet tapestry of people who love, who care and form more than just a community, but a family. This comes alive with some gorgeous writing - as here, with Lydia, a waitress in the diner :

"When you see someone every day for a while, you settle into a rhythm and you come to count on them even if for nothing more than fifteen minutes each morning they spend sitting at your counter, on one of your stools, talking about the weather and giving you a big smile and thumbs up when they sink their teeth into a poppyseed muffin."

The quiet heartache of this novel will resonate with anyone who has lost a loved one. But surprisingly Mr. Clegg counteracts the sadness with the characters revealing little snippets of past and present happiness. Many of their happiest moments and memories are the little things -- which often turn out to be enormous. I underlined this sentence and re-read it several times, simply lovely...

"All we can do is play our parts and keep each other company. And it might be you never know the part you played."

Did You Ever Have a Family concludes 3,000 miles away from the original tragedy, with a gentle happiness warily gathering around the main characters. As if their new community - this new family -- is a healing shawl around their shoulders .

Yes, Did You Ever Have a Family is sad, but it is also a heartening testament to the fundamental human need to connect with others. Those that keep us getting out of bed each morning, those we care for, worry about, love and if we're lucky - wonders of wonders - they love us back.

A digital review copy was provided by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley.

See all my book reviews at http://www.bookbarmy.com

( )
  BookBarmy | Apr 13, 2017 |
Four people die in a house fire and June is the only survivor and really there are no survivors. June leaves in the car which is all she has left and ends up on the west coast in Washington on the Pacific Ocean. The death of these four people brings a web of connections together. The story is told by alternating perspectives and examines grief, loss and guilt. I enjoy books that examine grief and loss but this really is a book more about guilt and regret. This book has made a lot of lists but hasn't won any prizes yet including the Booker Man long list. It is currently on the International Dublin long list. I listened to the audio which was read by the author. This was a mistake. The author can read, he reads fine but that's just it, he is reading and he has a male voice and it never changes. There are many perspectives, mostly women characters and it is hard to keep track of who is the current narrator because they all sound the same. Still I will have to say I enjoyed the book but the reason it was so enjoyable is that when June drives to Washington she ends up at the Pacific Ocean. I just returned from Washington where this book takes place; Aberdeen, Lake Quinault, Gray's Harbor, Ocean Beaches. What a nice surprise. I had no idea that I had started a book that was set in places I had been. I walked along the shore at Aberdeen, the beach at Ocean Beaches and I stayed at the Lodge on Lake Quinault. Every year I get a calendar delivered to me from the Quinault Indians which have a part in the book. ( )
  Kristelh | Apr 7, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 72 (next | show all)
Catastrophe and misfortune are a novelist’s friends, dramatic devices that provide a plot and let characters demonstrate their range. Tragedies tunnel through life, and the suspense comes from seeing how these spaces will be filled. This is what excites us about books that begin with a sorrowful bang. Grief is sad — we know that — but what now? How will these particular characters respond? What else do you have to give us?

In his masterly first novel, “Did You Ever Have a Family,” Bill Clegg gives us June Reid, a small Connecticut town and a fire on the eve of June’s daughter’s wedding that obliterates everything: June’s home, her boyfriend, her ex-husband, her daughter and her daughter’s fiancé. How could anyone react to such unfathomable loss? June responds by making a zombielike crawl west to a seaside motel in Moclips, Wash., where she now hides, rarely leaving her room.
 
Like Anne Tyler, another contender for this year’s Man Booker, Clegg is a master of investing the mundane with what John Updike called “its beautiful due”. ....What sustains us in the end is sympathy, kindness, the electrical hum of connection with others, however faint. Clegg takes occasional missteps –the unlikely redemption offered by an unsent letter accidentally discovered seems like cheating – but for the most part this is a wonderful and deeply moving novel, which compels us to look directly into the dark night of our deepest fears and then quietly, step by tiny step, guides us towards the first pink smudges of the dawn.
 
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Epigraph
You should have
   heard him, 
      his voice was
unforgettable, irresistible, his voice
was an imaginary garden woven through with fragrance.

Did you ever have a family?
   Their eyes are closed.
That's how I know
   we're there
       inside it, 
it's made of sound and steam
that weaves between dark
dining room, bright kitchen.
We're there because I'm hungry, 
and we'll all be eating soon
        together, and the hunger's sweet

Alan Shapiro, "Song and Dance"
Dedication
For Van, and for our families
First words
He wakes to the sound of sirens. Many, loud, and very near.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
amazon ca The stunning debut novel from bestselling author Bill Clegg is a magnificently powerful story about a circle of people who find solace in the least likely of places as they cope with a horrific tragedy.

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

From the couple running a motel on the Pacific Ocean where June eventually settles into a quiet half-life, to the wedding’s caterer whose bill has been forgotten, to Luke’s mother, the shattered outcast of the town—everyone touched by the tragedy is changed as truths about their near and far histories finally come to light.

Elegant and heartrending, and one of the most accomplished fiction debuts of the year, Did You Ever Have a Family is an absorbing, unforgettable tale that reveals humanity at its best through forgiveness and hope. At its core is a celebration of family—the ones we are born with and the ones we
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