The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

downloadA lot of people have compared this to a Jonathan Franzen novel, which I think is usually intended as a compliment. I totally see it–they share the sense that they fully understand the complete psychology of all of their characters, which to me is both arrogant and a sign that the characters are insufficiently complex. Do they really think that people can be figured out like that? They also both write about characters’ less sterling moments, even from within their own points of view, with an unappealing air of contempt. Maybe a character is illustrating something, but she isn’t really living it.

Some of these characters border on cartoonish, and the plot is too engineered, too tidy. What we have is Marilyn and David, a couple universally seen as golden (although of course we ultimately learn about each one’s isolated demon), and their four adult daughters, each with one major life issue–Wendy, the oldest whose rich husband, whom she actually really loved, died young; Violet, her Irish twin, obsessed with curating the apparently perfect life for her adorable family; Liza, ambitious and successful with a depressed boyfriend who plays video games in sweatpants; and Grace, who has moved away and pretends to the whole family that she got into, and is attending, law school. No character is significantly more complex than that.

And then, a new person appears in their orbit (I’ll leave you with at least some mystery), and methodically, one by one, disrupts each person’s equilibrium in exactly the way they happen to need awakening. It covers 40 years and jumps around among everyone’s point of view, sometimes quite quickly. I think it’s almost impossible to build deep psychological or emotional resonance like that.

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