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Book Review

‘Did You Ever Have A Family’

1/13/2016

As dawn breaks over the small Connecticut town where Bill Clegg’s debut fiction takes place, we learn that a tragedy has occurred. During the night, a gas leak in June Reid’s home has caused an explosion that has killed her entire family. June’s daughter was to be married later that day, but now Lolly is dead, along with her fiancé, June’s boyfriend Luke, and June’s ex-husband, all who were sleeping in the house at the time of the fire. After the funerals, June numbly drives west in an attempt to outrun her grief. She’s wearing the same clothes she’s had on since the night of the disaster, and her only luggage is her cash card. A Man Booker nomination, Clegg’s quiet, deeply moving novel explores what it is like to confront profound loss.

By Bill Clegg Scout Press Sept. 1, 2015 $26 304 pp

By Bill Clegg
Scout Press
Sept. 1, 2015
$26
304 pp

We hear from a menagerie of voices through chapters told in the first or third person, characters who are connected in some way to those involved in the tragedy. As June travels west and holes up indefinitely in an oceanfront motel in Washington where her daughter and her fiancé once stayed, we hear from the lesbian couple who own the motel; Lydia, Luke’s mom; the florist and caterer for the wedding; and Silas, the stoner teenager who worked for Luke. Modest town “locals,” it is through their bleak retrospections that we learn more about the events leading up to the explosion as well as their own complex suffering, mistakes and burdens.

Clegg deftly sets a mournful, dismal mood enhanced by a slow pace and tightly controlled prose. His characters carry the weight of errors and choices they made that cannot be undone, and they suffer for amends that cannot be made. He authentically writes about grief and sorrow, regret and guilt, yet he shows that it is possible to find some solace through connection to others as well as from acceptance and forgiveness. CV

Fay Jones was born with a love of literature, which was finely shored up throughout her early years by her parents & a beloved children’s librarian who wore the thickest glasses ever manufactured.

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