Did You Ever Have A Family / Bill Clegg

On the morning of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life disappears in a sudden flash. A gas explosion in her home takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, June’s ex-husband, and Luke, her much younger boyfriend. June survives only because she happens to be outside when the explosion takes place. Unable to face the smoldering ruins of this tragedy, she flees her small Connecticut town to a roadside motel on the Pacific, where she withdraws into the room’s shell, cut off from almost all human contact.

While the gas explosion is never actually described, the events leading up to it and the ripple effect it causes are fully explored. June herself only appears in a handful of the book’s chapters. Instead of making her the story’s focus, Clegg broadens the canvas to show how this tragedy changed the lives of people who knew and loved those killed on that wedding day. This includes the parents of the fiancé, friends and neighbors, and the mother of Luke, June’s boyfriend. For me, Lydia Morey, Luke’s mother, proves to be this novel’s most interesting character. She is also the thread that unites the separate lives presented, and ultimately she becomes the knot of the story’s conclusion.

This is by no means a great novel. Clegg’s writing style is plain and direct. He lets his characters speak in their own vernacular, stripped of all poetic embellishment. Nonetheless, he succeeds in creating a community that rings true on the page by fully providing his characters’ complicated pasts. Detailing a small town’s secrets and whispers, he sympathetically weaves a tale of tragedy into one that concludes with hope and forgiveness rising like a phoenix from the ashes. In doing so, Did You Ever Have A Family proves to be a book difficult to set down.

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