Summary and book reviews of Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg

Did You Ever Have A Family

by Bill Clegg

Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg X
Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2016, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Bradley Sides

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About this Book

Book Summary

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 create.

Rick

My mom made Lolly Reid's wedding cake. She got the recipe from a Brazilian restaurant in the city where she went one night after going in with her friends to see a show. It was a coconut cake made with fresh oranges. She prepared for days. It didn't have any pillars or platforms or fancy decorations; just a big sheet cake with a scattering of those tiny, silver edible balls and a few purple orchids she had special-ordered from Edith Tobin's shop. She was proud of that cake. She bakes and decorates cakes for all the birthdays in our family, and she made the wedding cake for my sister's wedding, and mine; so when June Reid hired us to cater her daughter Lolly's wedding, I thought, Why not?

Unfortunately, she never got paid. I didn't either. Not a cent. And if June Reid had tried to pay me, I would have torn up the check. I couldn't accept money from that woman after what she'd been through. My wife, Sandy, saw it differently, still does, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. After June has had an argument with her daughter, Lolly, the night before Lolly's wedding, "Pru asked if she was okay, and June answered with a question that seemed to Pru more of a comment on June's struggles with Lolly: Did you ever have a family?" (p. 131) Why do you think Clegg choose this line as the title of his novel? What does being part of a family mean to each of the characters in the novel? Do any of their perspectives change?
  2. When a particularly pushy news anchor asks June how she is "surviving" the loss of her loved ones following a house fire, she answers, "No one has survived" (p. 12). Explain June's statement. Do you agree with June that, although she is alive, she has not survived? How are June and the ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

...the quick and episodic structure of Clegg’s novel doesn’t allow for enough development. That said, I don’t actually think Clegg intentionally neglects his characters. Rather, it seems like the emotional separation he gives us is intentional. It feels as if the overwhelming density of characters and circumstances is supposed to be a metaphor for the larger loss of life that pervades the novel, a sort of suffocation in grief.   (Reviewed by Bradley Sides).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [It's] Clegg's deft handling of all the parsed details - missed opportunities, harbored regrets, and unspoken good intentions - that make the journey toward redemption and forgiveness so memorable.

Booklist

Starred Review. Clegg is both delicately lyrical and emotionally direct in this masterful novel, which strives to show how people make bearable what is unbearable, offering consolation in small but meaningful gestures. Both ineffably sad and deeply inspiring, this mesmerizing novel makes for a powerful debut.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Readers may come to this debut novel because of agent/memoirist Clegg's reputation, but they'll stay for the stellar language and storytelling. Highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An attempt to map how the unbearable is borne, elegantly written and bravely imagined.

Author Blurb Elinor Lipman, author of The View from Penthouse B
I marveled my way through Did You Ever Have a Family, at not just the masterful writing and storytelling, but at the emotional authenticities of every persuasion. It's a wondrous thing when a writer gets things this right, this absorbing, and this beautiful. Bravo, Bill Clegg, and thank you.

Author Blurb Anne Enright, Man Booker Prize winner for The Gathering
Full of small-town secrets and whispers, Bill Clegg has woven a richly textured tale of loss and healing. This is a deeply optimistic book about the power of human sympathy to pull us from the wreckage of our fate.

Author Blurb Darin Strauss, author of Chang & Eng
Like the question it poses, Did You Ever Have a Family is brutally direct yet it's got an enormous symbolic power...It's been a lot of years since a novel has so moved me. Number Bill Clegg among that endangered species: major American writer.

Author Blurb Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours
The force, range, and scope of Bill Clegg's Did You Ever Have a Family will grab you with its opening lines, and won't let go until its final one. I can't recall another novel that so effortlessly weds a nuanced, lyrical voice to an unflinching vision of just how badly things can go for people.

Reader Reviews

DJ Butler

Truly Excellent Debut
I almost passed on reading this book because of the tragedy involved in the story. So glad I didn't. This is one of the best pieces of fiction I've read in awhile. Great storytelling and really wonderful character development. I highly recommend it.

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Beyond the Book

Grief in Contemporary Literature

Bill Clegg's Did You Ever Have A Family tells the story of different characters whose lives intersect as they deal with the struggles (and few successes) of life. One character stands out among the large cast: June Reid, a middle-aged woman, who is dealing with the loss of her entire family from a tragic fire.

As you might guess by June's situation, Clegg's novel does not hold back from covering the unpleasant aspects of life. This is a work that touches on a lot of big, and often dark, themes. We see struggle and guilt and loneliness. The most prevalent feeling throughout the book, though, is the intense sensation of profound grief. How might we recover from such a deep, tough place? And, even then, are we ever able to ...

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