Loads of Learned Lumber

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bill Clegg, _Did You Ever Have a Family_

ANOTHER BOOK CLUB selection, this one for March. Our main character is June Reid, professional class, late middle age, nice old house in Connecticut. The night before her daughter's wedding, June's house burns down. Her daughter, her daughter's fiancé, and June's lover (quite a bit younger, of mixed race) perish in the fire.

June heads for the Pacific Northwest; quite a bit of the novel tracks her journey and arrival in close third-person. Other sections (some first-person, some close third) fill in the perspective of (for instance) June's lover's mother, her daughter's fiancé's parents, the owner of the motel where June lands, and other affected people. The overall course of the novel involves piecing together What Actually Happened in the fire, backstory on June's relationships with her daughter and with her lover, and her psychological recovery from the trauma.

The novel was tolerable, but all the time I was reading it I kept thinking of another novel of a woman on a journey in the aftermath of a catastrophe--David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress--and of how much better Markson's novel was, more deeply imagined, more authentically realized. Anyone thinking of reading Did You Ever Have a Family should read Wittgenstein's Mistress instead, methinks. Clegg's novel is easier to read but relatively shallow.

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