Book Review: DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY by Bill Clegg

“stellar writing… unique story structure… uncannily genuine”

I have to admit, when I picked up DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY by Bill Clegg, I had reservations based on the theme, which felt like it had been done a million times … “Character faces tragedy. Character builds new life with outside family.”

 DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY by Bill CleggHowever, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The author – not only through stellar writing, but also a unique story structure – has created a book wholly original and engaging and worthy of the many accolades it received. I was absorbed in this multiple-multiple-multiple viewpoint book from the first sentence, wondering how all of these individuals’ stories fit together.

The book, at first, feels episodic with vignettes of each character’s life in the initial chapters, but I soon marveled at the author’s ability to weave a cast of so many together in a meaningful and connected way – a way in which my sympathies were sparked equally from character to character. (I would recommend picking this book up in printed format for the very ability to flip back and forth at the beginning to get characters straight. Reading on an iPad made this a bit tricky).

Nevertheless, Clegg inhabits the heads of his characters – both male and female – in an uncannily genuine fashion, a talent that only adds to the central question raised on the first page – a bit of a mystery that kept me flipping pages until the end of this novel. The depth of the characters is admirable, given the slightness of this book (293 pages). I was especially drawn to the emotions of the characters, which were portrayed with great authenticity.

Clegg’s writing is accessible yet beautiful in so many instances, spinning a tale of the importance of each individual life and illuminating the way a single life can touch so many. And, of course, this is a story about family, how we define family, what family means, the sacrifices we make for family, the mistakes we make with them, the way we cling to family.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit to a certain curiosity about this book given the author’s dual occupation as the literary agent for one of my all-time favorite books (The Orchardist – Amanda Coplin), as well as The Story of Land and Sea (Katy Simpson Smith).

I would recommend DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY by Bill Clegg to anyone interested in contemporary literary fiction with deep thematic roots and wonderful imagery.

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(A version of this review was published by Melissa Crytzer Fry at GoodReads on December 9, 2016. It is reposted here with the permission of the author.)

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