The TLDR version of this post is: Run, do not walk, to your bookstore or library and get Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg.
At their core, all our reactions to tragedy are about regret. Regret for what happened, even if we didn’t cause it. Regret for an altered future we didn’t plan for. Regret for things we did or did not do, or say, before we lost the chance. Regret for all the times we failed to appreciate what we had, while we still had it.
Bill Clegg explores the regret felt in the wake of a tragedy and focuses on the most complex relationships we have: the ones with our family. Did You Ever Have a Family describes the quiet, deeply felt sorrow of the people left behind: their grief, their rawness, and their regrets. There’s an unspoken question: whether it’s possible to seek redemption and who can help us find it.
“She knows that if she could retrace her steps after that phone call from Peg, rethink every decision that followed, she would not be standing on the shore of a lake in the middle of nowhere.”
Did You Ever Have a Family intertwines tragedy, family and regret. You’d think that would be a combination that is devastating to read, but the parts that made me cry weren’t the explorations of grief. I cried in the parts that reflected the joy that comes from forgiveness, from the acceptance of our own humanity and mistakes. The light, rather than the dark.
It left me feeling shaken, and holding the book in my hand after felt like I was holding a tremendously powerful account of humanity. It’s powerful, and I’m so glad I read it.
What else can I say about this one? Only that I think if you pick it up you’ll find a story that you don’t want to put down, characters that reflect your own humanity, and a book that you’ll be very glad you read. It lives up to the hype, and is worthy of its place on the Man Booker Prize long list.
One final side note: I’m beginning to realize how much I love novels told from multiple perspectives and narrators. (Reading The Shore triggered this epiphany, and this one cemented it.) This is definitely something I need to continue to seek out in the fiction I pursue.
FTC Disclosure: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher.
Author photo by Christian Hansen.