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REVIEW: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

A senseless tragedy takes the lives of June’s entire family. Bill Clegg writes, in vivid detail, how several people caught in the aftermath are affected by the disaster. I love books with alternating points of view if they are done well. This book has eleven point-of-view characters. Some are told in first person and some are in third person. This could have resulted in a confusing mess, but instead it shaped a complex, emotionally compelling story. 

"At first he thinks his house is on fire, but when he leans out and looks back, he can see that the smoke is coming from beyond the trees on the other side of the property. Then he smells it—the oily stench of a fire burning more than just wood. He can taste it, too, and as he inhales, it mingles with the pot smoke still on his tongue and in his throat. The birds get louder. Squawking, yelling what sound like words. Go! You! Go! he thinks he hears, but knows it’s impossible. He blinks his eyes open and shut, attempts to process each thing: the smoke, the smell, the birds, the sirens, the magnificent sky. Is he dreaming? Is this a nightmare? Is it the pot? He got it from Tess at the farm stand up the road, and her stuff is usually mellow, not like the trippy buds he and his friends drive an hour and a half south to score in Yonkers. He wishes he were having a nightmare or hallucinating, but he knows he’s awake and what he sees is real." (Silas)

The most interesting thing about the point of view for me is that the main characters are told in third person. Those more distanced from the tragedy are told in first person, and describe the main characters in an almost gossipy tone. 

"I’ve been worried since the day she arrived. Something about the way she dragged herself when she walked, her exhaustion, and the limit to how much she could engage, the way her eyes were open physically but in every other way were shut. It was a look I recognized. What if she’s come to die here? What then? I asked Kelly after the New Year. Then she’s come here to die and there’s nothing we can or should do about it, she answered, matter-of-fact, as usual. But if she dies and it comes out that we checked her in without ID or a credit card, won’t we get in trouble? Isn’t there some law? Kelly looked at me in that way that she does, that way that makes me feel like a ridiculous child who’s asked to stay up an hour past her bedtime." (Rebecca)

The fact of no quotation marks for dialogue somehow works really well and makes the writing feel more intimate. 

The reactions and motivations of the characters seem believable, and so real that I feel personally invested in the outcome. There is tension on every page as it is slowly revealed what each character knows and believes about the unfortunate event, and how they come to terms with it. 

I felt as though I was grieving right along with the characters. The ending was satisfying but not too tidy and convenient. For such a short book, it had a strong emotional impact on me. I was sad when it was over.

Recommended: if you like slowly unraveling stories told by a large cast of characters.

Triggers: death of family members

Did You Ever Have a Family
Bill Clegg
Release date: September 2015
Publisher: Scout Press
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 293

Format: ebook


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