Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bill Clegg: Did You Ever Have a Family?

I maintain a keychain full of library cards, granting me borrowing privileges at every institution to which I have legal access. As I frequently remind my students, though, the most valuable resource in any media center--as libraries are now called--is the personnel. I have a fondness beyond words for that special class of librarians who see their mission as that of matchmaker, bringing together books and their best readers.

Even though I regularly frequent larger libraries in the area, I return again and again to the small Granite Falls Branch Library of the Caldwell County system.  Years ago, I discovered their audiobook collections, and I have since maintained a relationship with the staff there. They not only listen to my recommendations, but they order them.  Best of all, when I'm there returning or checking out, they frequently tell me a title they not only recommend but will place on hold for me.  Most recently, I discovered Bill Clegg's novel Did You Ever Have a Family? just this way.

The novel, told from a number of perspectives opens as a teenage boy smokes pot in his upstairs bedroom becomes aware of an uproar downstairs because of a nearby house fire.  Gradually, the story unfolds of a family, broken in the clearest sense of the word but coming together for a daughter's wedding--until most of the key members of the wedding party die in the fire--all the inhabitants of the house but the bride's mother June.

This is a story of the survivors--two mothers from vastly different situations handling their grief, loss, and guilt in the only way they know how--alone. June, who has lost her young boyfriend Luke in the fire as well, leaves town. Luke's mother Lydia, an outcast in the Connecticut town for years, deals with the loss and the accusatory whispers in her own private way.

Pulling their stories together, though, Clegg introduces secondary and minor characters who have moved in and out of their lives. Readers are introduced to the family of the groom, a pair of women running a small hotel in Washington state and the woman who cleans the rooms, the natural father of one of the deceased, who never knew of the son's existence, and even the caterer and florist who were never even paid for their services.

The question in the title is posed as an answer or explanation by one of the survivors, an attempt at one time to explain her unsettled life. For anyone who can answer yes--and that's all of us--the story Clegg spins, moving back and forth between Connecticut and Washington, shows the possibility of moving past guilt and loss, even with scars and hurt intact.

This is just the kind of book to pass along to any reader who wrestles with the mingled joys and sorrows that come with loving a family. And that's all of us too.

1 comment:

S.E.Ingraham said...

This sure sounds like it would be right up my alley. Thanks for the tip, Nancy.