Did You Ever Have a Family
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Did You Ever Have a Family

3.9 16
by Bill Clegg
     
 

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD, MAN BOOKER PRIZE, PEN/ROBERT W. BINGHAM PRIZE, AND ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE • AN ALA NOTABLE BOOKNAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Amazon • Library Journal • Booklist • NPR • Kirkus Reviews • Guardian • St.

Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD, MAN BOOKER PRIZE, PEN/ROBERT W. BINGHAM PRIZE, AND ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR EXCELLENCE • AN ALA NOTABLE BOOKNAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Amazon • Library Journal • Booklist • NPR • Kirkus Reviews • Guardian • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Google Play • Kobo • Literary Hub • Powell’s

Hailed as “masterly” by The New York Times Book Review, “a brilliantly constructed debut set in the aftermath of catastrophic loss” (2015 Man Booker Prize Judges).

The stunning debut novel from bestselling author Bill Clegg is a magnificently powerful story about a circle of people who find solace in the least likely of places as they cope with a horrific tragedy.

On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is upended when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

From the couple running a motel on the Pacific Ocean where June eventually settles into a quiet half-life, to the wedding’s caterer whose bill has been forgotten, to Luke’s mother, the shattered outcast of the town—everyone touched by the tragedy is changed as truths about their near and far histories finally come to light.

Elegant and heartrending, and one of the most accomplished fiction debuts of the year, Did You Ever Have a Family is an absorbing, unforgettable tale that reveals humanity at its best through forgiveness and hope. At its core is a celebration of family—the ones we are born with and the ones we create.

Editorial Reviews

starred review Booklist
"Clegg is both delicately lyrical and emotionally direct in this masterful novel, which strives to show how people make bearable what is unbearable, offering consolation in small but meaningful gestures. Both ineffably sad and deeply inspiring, this mesmerizing novel makes for a powerful debut."
Buzzfeed
One of Nineteen Awesome New Books You Need to Read This Fall (2015)
A- review Entertainment Weekly
"Did You Ever Have a Family is the first full-length foray into fiction for Bill Clegg... but it reads like the quietly assured work of a veteran novelist.... it’s rare to find a book that renders unimaginable loss in such an eloquent, elegant voice."
Los Angeles Times
“Illuminate[s] how grief, guilt, regrets and the deep need for human connection are woven into the very flammable fabric of humanity…. Clegg's emotionally direct, polished novel is at once heartrending and heartening. It's a gift to be able to write about such dark stuff without succumbing to utter bleakness, and to infuse even scorching sadness with a ray of hopefulness.”
Boston Globe
“How do you continue if all at once, everyone you love has been wiped away? With crosscutting perspectives and a voluminous cast of characters, Clegg constructs a layered narrative with some dexterous plot twists.”
San Francisco Gate
"This isn’t your typical mystery, it’s something better: a real-life thriller in which resolution takes the form of acceptance. While [Clegg] never suggests anything as simplistic as closure for these tormented souls, he manages to find ways for them to move forward from this tragedy, making it seem a little less random than it did at the beginning, and that in and of itself is a kind of mercy."
Star Tribune
"[Did You Ever Have a] Family is a quiet and beautifully written novel that will keep readers turning the pages…. There is no resignation here. Rather, Clegg seems to say, it is the courage to intervene in another’s life that defines the notion of family.”

“19 Awesome New Books You Need To Read This Buzzfeed
“Heartbreaking but quietly optimistic, Did You Ever Have a Family is a rumination on horrific loss, healing, forgiveness, and the families we choose for ourselves.”
“7 Books You Need to Read This September&rdq Vulture
[Did You Ever Have A] Family melds several grieving voices into a detailed mosaic of a town split between locals and weekenders, a mystery in which the stakes really matter, and a recovery story more original than Clegg’s own.”
Shelf Awareness
“One of the year's most hotly anticipated books.”
"Five Things I’m Loving" Glamour
"The sharp writing and haunting characters had me glued.”
Vanity Fair
“Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have a Family limns the far reaches of grief.”
2015 Man Booker Prize Judges (Longlist Finalist)
“A brilliantly constructed debut set in the aftermath of catastrophic loss.”
Vogue
“[An] unexpectedly tender fiction debut.”
Harper’s Bazaar
“[An] incisive first novel."
The Times (UK)
“Clegg has produced a moving, clever novel that subtly dissects the relationships between mothers and their children, lovers, neighbors and strangers. Did You Ever Have a Family is an unpretentious work about how a life can be salvaged from the ashes. Bill Clegg is an author to watch.”
The Guardian (UK)
"A quiet novel of devastating power. Clegg has drawn a tale of prodigious tenderness and lyricism.... that reveals the depths of the human heart. [Did You Ever Have a Family] is a wonderful and deeply moving novel, which compels us to look directly into the dark night of our deepest fears and then quietly, step by tiny step, guides us towards the first pink smudges of the dawn."
The Daily Telegraph (UK)
“A quiet, measured and engrossing piece…. a poignant portrait of fractured family lives. Clegg’s prose conveys the numbed grieving state of mind, its quietness fitting its subject of deep clear-eyed sadness…. It approaches grief gently and, in the end, its gentleness is its triumph.”
The New York Times Book Review
PRAISE FOR DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY

“Masterly…The vignettes provide deft reprieves, a mosaic of a community and its connection to the tragedy. And connection—the way people and their lives fuse—is this novel’s main concern."

Bestselling author Elinor Lipman
"I marveled my way through Did You Ever Have a Family, at not just the masterful writing and storytelling, but at the emotional authenticities of every persuasion. It's a wondrous thing when a writer gets things this right, this absorbing, and this beautiful. Bravo, Bill Clegg, and thank you."
Man Booker Prize-winning novelist Anne Enright
"Full of small-town secrets and whispers, Bill Clegg has woven a richly textured tale of loss and healing. This is a deeply optimistic book about the power of human sympathy to pull us from the wreckage of our fate."
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham
"The force, range, and scope of Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have a Family will grab you with its opening lines, and won’t let go until its final one. I can’t recall another novel that so effortlessly weds a nuanced, lyrical voice to an unflinching vision of just how badly things can go for people. I read it deep into the night, all the way through, telling myself it was getting late, I could finish the book in the morning. I finished it that night, however, slept a few hours, and then, in the morning, started reading it again."
National Book Critics Circle Award–winning author Darin Strauss
"Like the question it poses, Did You Ever Have a Family is brutally direct yet it's got an enormous symbolic power. You hold in your hands a great book of kindness—every restrained, exquisite sentence comes loaded for bear. It's been a lot of years since a novel has so moved me. Number Bill Clegg among that endangered species: major American writer."
The Sunday Times (UK)
"Clegg is a gimlet-eyed observer and is masterly at deftly sucking in the reader as he fashions an emotional tsunami into a profound, mesmerizing description."
“Ten Books to Read in September” BBC
“This first novel arrives with a shout…Clegg covers the full spectrum of human emotion in this beautifully nuanced story."
NPR
“In trying to tell the faceted story of a single moment as seen by a hundred different eyes, Clegg has attempted something daring. And the wonder of it is how often his experiment succeeds...”
People
“In measured prose, Clegg unspools the stories of June and the other survivors as they face unimaginable horror and take their first halting steps toward hope and community."
The New York Times Book Review - Kaui Hart Hemmings
In his masterly first novel, Did You Ever Have a Family, Bill Clegg…has created characters who…are riddled with secrets and betrayals they've only just begun to unearth. They have complicated pasts, and it is these—far more than the immediate concerns of the present or the obvious burdens of grief—that the novel is most interested in exploring…Therein lies the quiet heartache of this novel. It's only natural for these people—for any people—to rue their missteps and unspoken words, yet only through the accident could their secrets be released, their better selves emerge, their lives begin.
Elinor Lipman
"I marveled my way through Did You Ever Have a Family, at not just the masterful writing and storytelling, but at the emotional authenticities of every persuasion. It's a wondrous thing when a writer gets things this right, this absorbing, and this beautiful. Bravo, Bill Clegg, and thank you."
Anne Enright
"Full of small-town secrets and whispers, Bill Clegg has woven a richly textured tale of loss and healing. This is a deeply optimistic book about the power of human sympathy to pull us from the wreckage of our fate."
Michael Cunningham
"The force, range, and scope of Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have a Family will grab you with its opening lines, and won’t let go until its final one. I can’t recall another novel that so effortlessly weds a nuanced, lyrical voice to an unflinching vision of just how badly things can go for people. I read it deep into the night, all the way through, telling myself it was getting late, I could finish the book in the morning. I finished it that night, however, slept a few hours, and then, in the morning, started reading it again."
Darin Strauss
"Like the question it poses, Did You Ever Have a Family is brutally direct yet it's got an enormous symbolic power. You hold in your hands a great book of kindness—every restrained, exquisite sentence comes loaded for bear. It's been a lot of years since a novel has so moved me. Number Bill Clegg among that endangered species: major American writer."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781476798189
Publisher:
Gallery/Scout Press
Publication date:
05/17/2016
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
19,533
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Did You Ever Have A Family


By Bill Clegg

Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Bill Clegg
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4767-9819-6


CHAPTER 1

Silas


He wakes to the sound of sirens. Many, loud, and very near. Then horns: short, angry grunts like the buzzers signaling time-out in the basketball games he watches but does not play in at school. His cell phone says 6:11 a.m., but the house downstairs is awake and loud and from the particular pitch of his mother's rough morning voice, scratching above his father's and sisters', he knows something is wrong.

Before he kicks off the covers, Silas grabs his yellow knapsack from under the bed. He pulls out the small, red bong his friend Ethan gave him last month for his fifteenth birthday along with a bag of pot he smoked in less than a week, mostly on the job yanking weeds from flower beds and patios for rich New Yorkers. He selects a green bud from the small, gray Tupperware container where he keeps his stash, carefully pinches it in half, and presses the larger piece into the metal bowl. He grabs the half-filled water bottle sitting on his nightstand and pours a few inches into the bong before lighting. As he inhales, he notices the smoke curl toward his mouth, thicken in the red tube, and turn, slowly, like a sheet twisting underwater. Once the bud has mostly turned to ash, he pulls the stem from the bong and releases the smoke to his lungs. The water gurgles at the bong's base, and he is careful to inhale gently to minimize the noise. He opens the window, snaps off the screen, and leans out, exhaling in one full, sloppy breath.

He watches the smoke float before him, catch the wind, vanish. He feels the cool air against his face and neck and waits for the pot to work its magic. The sky is pink and pale blue, and he traces a long trail of plane exhaust above him until it disappears over the roofline of the garage. The streaks are fluffy and loose, and so he thinks the plane must have flown over hours ago, before daybreak. To where? he wonders, the drug beginning to lozenge his thoughts.

Below him, four beefy crows land gracelessly on the lawn. He watches them hop and step and tuck their wings into their chest-thick bodies. They are the size of house cats, he thinks as he follows their quick, mechanical movements. After a while and for no apparent reason, they stop and stand perfectly still. He cannot see their eyes, but he senses they are staring up at him. He stares back. They cock their heads from side to side as if making sense of what they see. Wind ruffs their feathers from behind, and after a few hops they take flight. Airborne, they appear even larger, and for the first time he considers whether they might be hawks, or vultures. Then, as if unmuted, birds of all kinds squawk and screech and chirp from every direction. Startled, Silas knocks the back of his head against the top of the window. He rubs the spot and leans farther out. Another siren, different from the others — higher pitched, more upset — screams from far off. He tries to locate the crows that have disappeared into the complicated morning sky. What he finds instead are familiar shapes in the streaks and billows: a mountainous pair of swelling breasts, cat-eyed sunglasses, a fiery bird with vast wings. Then he sees what looks like nothing but what it is: smoke, pitch-black and thick, rising behind the roofline. 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.

At the tree line on the other side of the house, smoke pumps into the sky like pollution from a cartoon smokestack. It puffs and thins, puffs and thins. Then a terrible cloud, larger than the rest, swells from the same unseen source. It is dense, coal black, and faintly silver at the edges. As it rises, it expands into a greenish gray and then dissolves into a long, crooked wisp that points across the sky like the worst finger.

Silas backs away from the window. Still wearing the shorts and T-shirt from the night before, he slips on his old, gray-and-white New Balance running shoes, the ones he wears when he works his landscaping jobs or stacks firewood with his father. He looks in the mirror above his dresser and sees that his eyes are pinkish, bulging slightly, and his pupils are dilated. His unwashed-for-days, dark blond hair is jagged and oily, flat to his head in some places, standing on end in others. He rubs a stick of deodorant on his armpits and puts on his black, corduroy, Mohawk Mountain ski cap. He swigs the remaining water from the bottle by the bed and shoves a few sticks of Big Red gum in his mouth. He grabs the yellow knapsack and packs up his bong, his lighter, and the small Tupperware container. He rubs his eyes with both fists, breathes in deeply, exhales, and steps toward his bedroom door.

His thumb and forefinger graze the knob, and he remembers the night before, where he was and what happened. He steps back, traces his last movements before falling asleep, runs through it all once and then again to make sure it is not a dream he is remembering. He considers and then dismisses the possibility of taking another bong hit before leaving his room. He stands still, speaks to himself in a whisper. I'm okay. Everything's okay. Nothing's happened.

Downstairs, his mother's iPhone rings innocently, like an old-fashioned phone. She answers on the third ring and the house falls silent. The only sounds now are the tireless sirens, the grunting horns, and the distant hum of helicopter blades beating the air. From the kitchen, his father shouts his name. Silas steps away from the door.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg. Copyright © 2015 Bill Clegg. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Bill Clegg is a literary agent in New York and the author of the bestselling memoirs Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man and Ninety Days. He has written for the New York Times, Lapham’s Quarterly, New York magazine, The Guardian, and Harper’s Bazaar.

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Did You Ever Have A Family 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Real and raw....one of the best books I have read this year!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this novel--elegant and sad--highly reccomend
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sad but inspiring
SuseNJ More than 1 year ago
Well-written, unique, emotionally deep, wonderful characterization
Anonymous 6 months ago
Horrible. The writing was terrible. I have no idea what the author was trying to get across for the theme of the story. Could not even make it half way through the book.
Two2dogs 6 months ago
so glad I finally read this book, made me see things differently
Anonymous 11 months ago
This is a story that is ultimately life affirming in the face of immense tragedy. A truthful tale that depicts the reality that none of us can ever really know the heart or life experiences of another, and yet we are meant to be present to one another, especially during the darkest times. We have roles to play in one another's lives, the outcome and importance of which we may never understand. 'Family' wears many faces and forms. The characters in this book are beautifully developed and interwoven to support a heart wrenching plot. So true to life in that redemption is a hard won circumstance. Our lives often don't get neatly resolved in the end. Cissy is the epitome of wisdom in this book. My favorite character. One foot in front of the other is the best that can be done. We don't have to know why. We don't often get to know why.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Imagine trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle that has too many pieces and the pieces are from different puzzles, that is how this book reads. in an effort to be deep, it takes you to the lives of too many irrelevant people and places. In spite of the boredom and sleep the slow flow invited, I struggled to finish it in anticipation of the crescendo.... which never came. Long, boring, slow, void of a story, still trying to figure out the purpose...
Tracker64 More than 1 year ago
Outstanding book. The best book I have read in a couple of years. His use of language is beautiful and the way that all of the voices are joined together is perfect.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a beautifully told story. Can't even find the words to say how much it moved me and kept me involved in the lives of these characters. Would highly recommend to all. Cannot wait for this author to write another book!
BrandieC More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this book. Just over 200 pages but it packs in a lot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this novel--elegant and sad--highly recomend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully and artfully written. A puzzle that you will truly enjoy piecing together. A book that you'll want to reflect on while reading and long after you've finished. One of the best I've read in months - and I read A LOT!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Does anyone want to chat? If so, please reply to booklovermaniac.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I