Did You Ever Have A Family

Bill Clegg (Simon & Schuster)

Oct 28, 2015 at 10:13 am
click to enlarge 'Did You Ever Have A Family' by Bill Clegg
'Did You Ever Have A Family' by Bill Clegg

The author of two former memoirs about his experiences with addiction, Bill Clegg turns away from self-obsession and focuses on the “new families we choose,” in his arresting and gripping debut novel Did You Ever Have A Family. With slow, calculated deliberation, Clegg reveals how we often find solace in alternative families as a means of surviving horrible tragedies. This novel is a flawed journey into the best and worst of human hearts — an often shocking indictment on how families of origin fail and find us.

The evening before an idyllic wedding in a small Connecticut town, a suspicious fire guts an entire home and kills those sleeping inside, including most of the wedding party. In lesser hands, this might have been simply a captivating who-done-it mystery. But Clegg’s ambitions run much deeper. Narrated from multiple points of view, those most devastated by this horrible event each choose how to rebuild their broken lives and endure the grief that threatens to drown them. Clegg’s prose reveals a writer wise beyond his years, no stranger to grief.“The wind was wild, and as we walked, we leaned into it to keep moving forward. It was the first real effort I’d made in months, leaning in, not allowing myself to be blown back or down…I remembered I had a body and I could feel.” Did You Ever Have A Family is a fascinating inquiry into broken and battered human souls. Through living with Clegg’s characters we find ourselves searching, too — shivering, howling with hurt and embraced by those who can save us. Grade: B-