Powerful Debut Novel Navigates Road Back From Tragedy

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After finishing Bill Clegg’s first novel, Did You Ever Have A Family (September 2015), I immediately phoned my adult daughters to tell them I loved them. Clegg’s protagonist faces an unimaginable tragedy and his writing is so powerful, that I couldn’t help but wonder how I would react in a similar situation.

June Reid loses her daughter, the daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, her boyfriend, and her home on the night before her daughter’s wedding. Numb, unable to shed a tear, she leaves immediately after the funeral with only the clothes on her back. She is headed for a west coast destination, its significance becoming clearer as the book progresses.

Her journey leaves her with time to question every past decision, every angry word, and her intentions towards her much-younger boyfriend. Estrangements were beginning to thaw and now forgiveness is no longer possible.

Parents, neighbors, hoteliers, and even the unpaid caterer of the wedding share their connection to June and her lost family. They spill their secrets and confessions in a conversational tone, as if we were sitting across the diner booth with an endless cup of coffee. There is Lydia, the town’s outcast and mother of June’s young boyfriend. And Silas, a young man with a powerful need to confess what he knows about the tragedy.

On a final note, about half of the books I review arrive electronically, the others in print form. I enjoy both formats. Upon removing Clegg’s book from its shipping envelope, I felt an immediate familiarity. The toothy cover with raised lettering, the (printed) water-stained inside covers and flyleaves, the deckled trim and wide margins of the printed page, felt to my eye and hand like something I’d read and loved decades ago. Kudos to the production designer!

Bill Clegg’s previous nonfiction books dealt with losing everything due to addiction. He’s an excellent navigator through the difficult road back from disaster. Did You Ever Have A Family is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I strongly recommend it. Also, treat yourself and buy the actual book.

Reviewed by Carol Malkin

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About Libby

Libby started with Author Exposure as the book review editor and has evolved into the AE site editor. She was the creator and interviewer for the What's Next feature and still manages to squeeze in reviews of her own.

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