I loved this book. Put simply, Bill Clegg's Did You Ever Have a Family follows the fallout from a house fire the night before June's daughter's wedding, in which the daughter and her fiance, June's ex-husband, and her current lover Luke all died, leaving both June and Luke's mother Lydia bereft of any family. Although, as would be expected, most of the chapters follow June and Lydia as they try to cope with not only their losses, but also the past choices which led them to that point, we also get to hear from such tangential characters as the wedding florist and caterer, and it is Clegg's ability to give even minor characters their own distinctive voices which makes the book shine. Listen to the first words out of the florist's mouth: "They wanted daisies in jelly jars. Local daisies in fifty or so jelly jars they’d collected after they were engaged. Seemed childish to me, especially since June Reid wasn’t exactly putting her daughter’s wedding together on a shoestring. But who was I to have an opinion? Putting daisies in jelly jars is hardly high-level flower arranging, more like monkey work if you want to know the truth. Still, work is work, and the flower business around here is thin, so you take what you can get." Her bitterness oozes through the gossip she shares about June, Luke, and Lydia, but even she has her redeeming moment: "The daisies did not go to waste. Every single one was put to use. They never did see the inside of any jelly jars, but they found their way into a hundred or more funeral arrangements. Even when no one asked for them—and let’s face it, most did not—I still found a way to make them work. No one ever accused me of being a soft touch, but when something like what happened at June Reid’s that morning happens, you feel right away like the smallest, weakest person in the world. That nothing you do could possibly matter. That nothing matters. Which is why, when you stumble upon something you can do, you do it. So that’s what I did." Did You Ever Have a Family is not just a family drama, however; there is an intriguing mystery surrounding the cause of the fatal fire, the resolution of which is both surprising and, in hindsight, inexorable. Clegg's theme of the unanticipated consequences of personal choices is organic throughout; none of the developments feels forced, and the elegiac tone at the end is perfect. Be prepared to laugh; be prepared to cry; but above all, be prepared to celebrate Clegg's move from memoir to fiction. Scout Press could not have made a better selection for its lead title, and I can't wait to see more from both this author and this imprint. I received a free copy of Did You Ever Have a Family through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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