This novel certainly starts with an arresting first chapter. Like the titles mentioned in the previous post, the narrative trick is that each chapter is headed with a name. Bill Clegg gives no other clue as to who is speaking, where they fit into the puzzle or how they relate to the others in the story. This is both clever and intriguing and the reader keeps on reading while the fragments pile up into a full picture.
Did You Ever Have A Family is a fascinating title, because one way or another we all had parents, some of us even had siblings but not many of us would ever admit that we did not have a family. However, in this novel, the relationships are often so fractured that ‘family’ is hardly appropriate, it is more as if the relatives were co-habiting; on top of that there are illegitimacies, divorces and other ‘family’ stuff and at the same time, outside of the family there are some really strong relationships.
This is a book I would confidently back for the short list and comes highly recommended by me and many others. It is a thrilling, if sometimes devastating, narrative. Because of the storyline you absolutely cannot put it down and it is mercifully quite short, so resolution, even from the very beginning is only 293 pages away.
I do not think it is a spoiler alert to say that the dust jacket gives away the opening drama, the outcome though is different and much more complicated than one might assume, and indeed the obvious assumptions are often incorrect.
Michael Cunningham (author of The Hours) writes: “I read it deep into the night, all the way through, telling myself it was getting late, I could finish the book in the morning. I finished it that night, however, slept a few hours, and then, in the morning started reading it again.”
I am not sure whether I would recommend quite that approach, but certainly I read it in one sitting. It is a tremendously powerful book, full of the painful realities of family dysfunction, the loss and grief that this can cause and then it comes back at you with an equal measure of consolation and healing, often too late but never without its power. A life full of regret is one only half lived, and this is one of those books where a few people, often, and in this case, women, are stranded by their mistakes, their bad choices or worse – we should all listen more, especially to those close to us…who knows how long we will have them with us.
Bill Clegg has also written an excoriating memoir Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, he is a journalist and writes for the New York Times, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar and other publications.