by Bill Clegg
I heard about this book when it was first released last year, but put off buying it because I knew that the premise was a tragedy. I’ve recently started a new book club in my new neighborhood, though, and decided to choose this book as our first book.
The premise of Did You Ever Have a Family is indeed a tragedy: a catastrophic house fire kills four people the night before a wedding. The victims are the bride-to-be and her fiance, her father, and her mother’s boyfriend. June, the bride’s mother, is the only survivor. After the funerals, June flees without a word to anyone, setting out on a cross-country trip in an effort to outrun her grief. She ends up on the opposite coast, holed up in a little seaside motel that her deceased daughter once stayed at.
In the wake of the horrors of the house fire, the stories of numerous other people emerge – June’s boyfriend’s mother, the florist who was supposed to provide the wedding flowers, Silas, a local teen who can only be described as a hoodlum, the couple who own the motel at which June takes refuge, and various other people whose lives intersect in various ways.
Ultimately, this is a story about family, but also about profound loss and grief, and the formidable effort of surviving all of those things.
I appreciated this story, but it wasn’t the tear-jerker I thought it would be. I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters. I wanted to feel sympathy for June, the main character, but she’s somewhat of an enigma, a little cold and a little distant, which made it hard for me to feel much for her.
Still, it’s a well-written, nuanced story that I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading.