Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

So much of contemporary fiction is about families at the core. This one takes it head on on the cover. What is a family? The novel contains just about every variation, and seems to conclude that they all count, including the ones thrown together by life, in addition to those born and chosen. It’s centered around a tragedy–an explosion in a house the night before a wedding that kills everyone except the mother of the bride–but the chorus of voices telling the story gives us history of, say, the lesbian couple that owns a motel that has some significance to the story, including the best friend one of them had long before they met, and the parents and siblings of the otherwise largely peripheral would-be groom.

There are men in the book, but, in a way that’s unusual for a book written by a man, it centers almost exclusively on relationships between women, in a way that feels authentic. It probes at blame and forgiveness (self-blame most of all) and carries a deep empathy for all of the characters–even those who have done bad things. And while it may occasionally veer toward a pat or overly sentimental observation from the narrator, that’s a price I’ll pay for this kind of warm humanity.

I will remember the two motels — the Betsy in the east and the Moonstone in the west. Plus of course bonus points for a character who goes to Vassar.

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