The Bookies II reading group chose this book for it’s April 16 selection and because I enjoyed it so much (rating 9.25) I volunteered to do the discussion questions. Well – I read it last September and really don’t remember all that much about it. https://beckylindroos.wordpress.com/092015-2/did-you-ever-have-a-family/
Therefore, a reread wouldn’t hurt although I certainly feel like I remember it – otoh, looking through the questions provided by Simon & Schuster I wasn’t sure I could answer them very well – so – reread time. 🙂 – And I am SO SO glad I did.
Did You Ever Have a Family – x2
by Bill Clegg
2015 / 304 pages
rating – 9.5 / contemp fiction
And we’ll start with the SETTING:
Wells – a tiny old touristy town not far from Hartford, Connecticut. The time frame is contemporary with some backstories of up to 35 years. The town is gossipy and mostly rather close-minded.
A fire has just consumed June Reid’s home on the night before her daughter’s wedding. Four people die in the fire.
On my first reading I was so concerned with how the fire started I didn’t have time to pay attention to the incredibly literary skill which Bill Clegg brought to this book, his first novel.
CHARACTERS (in order of appearance):
SILAS – opening chapter – 15-year old male neighbor to June and family – at the scene of the fire – worked for Luke Morey.
JUNE REID – leaving town after her home burns and the funeral is held. Several members of her family die – age 52
LUKE MOREY- died in fire – June’s boyfriend/fiance – age 30 younger and apparently of mixed race – unknown father. Intelligent and a loner, well-liked, athletic, some college then jail, but now has a landscaping business. Very, very nice guy in spite of everything – loves June –
LOLLY REID – died in fire – June’s daughter – to be married the day after the night of the fire.
LYDIA MOREY – Luke’s mother – white – raised him alone after husband kicked her out when Luke turned out to have brownish skin. Housekeeper until Luke died.
EDITH TOBIN – florist in the touristy town of Wells (pop. about 1500)- New York? , – a little bitter, grumpy but shocked by the whole thing – saw the early ruins.
ADAM REID – died in fire – June’s ex-husband
WILL ____ – died in fire – Lolly’s fiance
RICK _______ caterer – old friend of Luke –
EARL MOREY – Lydia’s ex husband – from a large family –
DIRK MOREY – bad-mouthed drunk who insults Luke/June – step-brother to Luke
WINTON – phone caller to Lydia- scammer –
********* NEW SETTING – Moclips Washington
REBECCA- Moonstone Motel co-owner – lesbian, lived in Moclips 4 years – her parents have disowned her.
CISSY – Motel maid – widowed without children, Native American father, cares for June
PAM – siser of Cissy -real estate agent –
KELLY – Rebecca’s partner in life and business – co-owner. Strong parents but they are deceased – she’s alone except for Rebecca.
ANNETTE – childhood friend of June’s
PENNY – Rebecca’s old long-time friend – deceased
***** NEW SETTINGS –
GEORGE KING – black absent father of Luke Morey, widower with difficult son – Atlanta?
DALE – married to Mimi and father of Will who was Lolly’s fiance –
PRU – sister of Will
The narrative is presented in 3rd person and 1st person chapters – the main characters of the 3rd person chapters have a lot at stake emotionally – they really aren’t available for one reason or another. The 3rd person narrator uses present tense. The 1st person chapters are from characters who don’t have so much at stake – they usually report in the past tense and it’s based on observations or memory. We never hear from Lydia, June/Jane or Silas personally – but their memories are 3rd person present tense, it works I thnk because they are emotionally disconnected.
The chronology is somewhat disjointed because of memory sections in present tense accounts. This is necessary for the effect – some of these folks are drifting right on into the past as present and they are so emotionally removed they can’t do a first person –
Still, the chronology does follow a certain logic – there is a basic frame story which starts with the fire and moves along with June going to and living in Washington.
The suspense builds nicely but on the first reading I really wanted to know what happened to cause the fire and missed the literary subtleties. Even reading for the second time I noticed the increased tension/suspense (!) A great number of elements contribute to this. – Great novel.
(Wells) – Silas – 3rd person present tense with some memories – no dialogue
June – 3rd person present tense – leaving Wells- remembering – some philosophical
Edith – 1st person memories – past tense basically – observations?
Lydia – 3rd person present tense – some memories – overhearing women –
Rick – 1st person – memories – long-term friends with Luke –
(Moclips) Rebecca – 1st person -memories re Cissy, June (Jane)
(Wells) Lydia – 3rd person – past/present -memories of life – Earl and abuse
(Road) – June – 3rd person – present driving west – memories of Lolly and divorce,
(M) – Rebecca – 3rd person – memories of self and loves
(Atlanta) George – 1st person, p/p reporting memories –
(M) – Dale – 1st person – reporting memories – Pru to June “Did you ever have a family?”
(M) – Kelly – 1st person – memories- reporting her history and Cissy –
– Lydia – 3rd person -p/p- calls from Winton won lottery – walks sees Silas
– Silas – 3rd person – present – follows Lydia – watches her – remembers –
(R) – June – 3rd person -present driving west – even memories are present tense – living in memories –
! THIS IS A HECK OF A CHAPTER – ONE OF THE BEST I’VE EVER READ!
(A) – George -1st person – memories – “Our lives felt unreal and far away while we were in that motel room.”
(R) – June – 3rd person – present tense – needs help, nice man gets her to a motel, finds Lolly’s notebooks inc. Moonstone mentioned.
Lydia – 3rd pesron – present Winton phone calls 2x day, 3 months – walking, scared of Silas, home a woman comes and slaps her about money – talks different to Winton – living in present – “slapped out of it.”
(M) – Lolly – the letter to June Lolly wrote –
– Silas – third person – he’s scared of Lydia’s reaction to him, smokes some pot – living in daydreams – wrecks on his bike and goes back to …
(R) – June – specifically 3rd – remembering Lolly and Luke – driving west to Moonstone
(M) – Dale – 1st – remembering Will, ashes, and finding June at Moonstone – remembering Lolly, Lydia, etc. they write to Lydia –
– Lydia – 3rd except conversation – Lydia talks to WInton – Rex and drugs and Luke in jail -she hangs up on WInton
Silas – 3rd – present – memories – goes back to the house for his backpack – is stove on?
(M) – Cissy – 1st person memories – mixed race, childhood, loved Will,
– Silas – 3rd person – memories but present – his senses are heightened because of the pot – he hears ticking messes with stove – all memories
(M) – June – present tense- memories – of the night of fire, of engagement, memories within memories
_ Silas – memories in present tense – remembering Lydia – then going to her house – then future tense – he will …
(airplane) – Lydia – memories and travel – Silas told her his part –
(M)- June – 3rd – present – in motel – memories – drifting into them -before fire – ending with future tense –
(M) – Lydia – 3rd present – in taxi remembering Silas building with rocks. She finds June tells June –
(M) – Cissy – 1st person reporting – catching up, memories, closure –
THEMES – many overlapping and overlaid but it’s totally natural – nothing force:
– families, grief and loss, aloneness, betrayal, race, covering up, love, forgiveness, chance/fate (loc. 1104), home, connections (Amherst – Will, Rebecca)- Indian tribes (complex – rooted/rootless) – vulnerability (June, Lydia, George, Luke, Rebecca) – small town gossip, Parent child relationships
Rootless – June, Lydia, Rebecca, Kelly, motels –
Rootbound – Edith, Rick, Moreys, Cissy, George?
Moon? Amherst? motels and motel maids – (yikes) Moonstone – Moonies – moons and honeymoons –
Parent child relationships – parents don’t understand or support kids – aren’t there for them. June / Lolly, Lydia/Luke (?), George/Robert, Dale/Will –
Silas/Robert (both kids) use drugs for escape – fantasies are similar (dragons?)