Did You Ever Have a Family (Clegg)

Did You Ever Have a Family 
Bill Clegg, 2015
Gallery/Scout Press
ISBN-13: 9781476798172

A 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 completely devastated 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. And 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. (From .)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1970
Raised—Sharon, Connecticut, USA
Education—B.A., Washington College
Currently—lives in New York, New York

William Robert Clegg is an American literary agent and author who grew up in Sharon, Connecticut, the son of William Clegg, Jr., a TWA pilot, and Kathy Jeanne (nee Ruscoe). He has two sisters and a brother.

In 1993 at the urging of a friend, Clegg took a Radcliffe publishing course, which led to an entry-level position at the literary agency, Robbins Office. In 2001, he and Sarah Burnes cofounded their own agency, Clegg and Burnes. The firm's roster of clients grew to include Nicole Krauss, Susan Choi, Anne Carson, Heather Clay, Nick Flynn, and Andrew Sean Greer, among others.

In 2005, however, Clegg and Burke closed abruptly under mysterious circumstances. It was later revealed that the closing was due in part to Clegg's disappearance on a drug binge.

One year later, after getting sober, Clegg returned to publishing. He was hired by Jennifer Rudolph Walsh of William Morris Endeavor (WME), who took him on, according to Clegg, when no one else would. Many of Clegg's former clients returned to him. It was during his time at WME that he began writing his two memoirs.

In 2014 Clegg left WME to launch his own firm, the Clegg Agency. Jennifer Rudolph Walsh later represented him when he pitched his 2015 debut novel, Did You Ever Have a Family.

Clegg's first two memoirs, detail his addiction to crack cocaine. Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, published in 2010, recounts his descent into addiction, while Ninety Days, released two years later, details the difficulties of recovery.

His debut novel, Did You Ever Have a Family, came out in 2015 to great anticipation and solid reviews. The book was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award.

In addition to his books, Clegg has also written for the New York Times, Lapham’s Quarterly, New York magazine, The Guardian, and Harper’s Bazaar

Clegg, who is gay, was in a long term relationship with filmmaker Ira Sachs. Sachs based his film Keep the Lights On on their relationship. In 2013, Clegg married Van Scott Jr., a communications manager at CNN. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/23/2015.)

Book Reviews
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.
Kaui Hart Hemmings - New York Times Book Review

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.
Boston Globe

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.
Los Angeles Times

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.
San Francisco Gate

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.
Sunday 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.
London Times (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.
Guardian (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.
Daily Telegraph (UK)The sharp writing and haunting characters had me glued.

[An] unexpectedly tender fiction debut.

Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have a Family limns the far reaches of grief.
Vanity Fair

[An] incisive first novel.
Harper’s Bazaar

This first novel arrives with a shout…Clegg covers the full spectrum of human emotion in this beautifully nuanced story.

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.

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.

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.
Entertainment Weekly

(Starred review.) [S]orrowful and deeply...a story of loss and its grueling aftermath.... But it's Clegg's deft handling of all the parsed details—missed opportunities, harbored regrets, and unspoken good intentions—that make the journey toward redemption and forgiveness so memorable.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) 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.

(Starred review.) [O]n the eve of her daughter's wedding, June Reid's house literarily explodes, killing ex-husband Adam, lover Luke, daughter Lolly, and Lolly's fiance, Will. What follows is a propulsive but tightly crafted narrative....[wilth] stellar language and storytelling. Highly recommended.  —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal

(Starred review.) [A] fire kills the bride, the groom, her father, and her mother's boyfriend. "When something like [that] happened..., you feel right away like the smallest, weakest person in the world. That nothing you do could possibly matter."... [E]legantly written and bravely imagined.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. After June has had an argument with her daughter, Lolly, the night before Lolly’s wedding, "Pru asked if she was okay, and June answered with a question that seemed to Pru more of a comment on June’s struggles with Lolly: Did you ever have a family? " (p. 131) Why do you think Clegg choose this line as the title of his novel? What does being part of a family mean to each of the characters in the novel? Do any of their perspectives change?

2. When a particularly pushy news anchor asks June how she is "surviving" the loss of her loved ones following a house fire, she answers, "No one has survived." (p. 12) Explain June’s statement. Do you agree with June that, although she is alive, she has not survived? How are June and the others affected by the tragedy are coping with their grief?

3. Rebecca says "Funny how you think people are one way or the other and most of the time you end up completely wrong" (p. 66) when describing her initial assessment of Cissy. What causes Rebecca to change her mind? Apply Rebecca’s statement to the other characters in Did You Ever Have a Family. Were you wrong about any? If so, how?

4. Discuss the structure of Did You Ever Have a Family. What is the effect of having multiple narrators? Do the differing points of view help to deepen your understanding of the main characters, particularly June and Lydia? If so, how? Why do you think that June’s and Lydia’s sections are told in the third person?

5. At a local bar, Lydia remembers hearing a patron say "Some trees love an ax," and "something in what he said rang true, but when she later remembered what he’d said, she disagreed and thought instead that the tree gets used to the ax, which has nothing to do with love." (p. 78) How does this statement apply to Lydia’s relationship with Earl? Are there any other relationships in Did You Ever Have a Family where this statement could apply? Compare and contrast Lydia’s relationship with Earl to the other relationships in the book, taking a look at June’s relationships with Adam and Luke.

6. What did you think about June and Lydia’s friendship? When Lydia sees June on the morning of the fire "June turned her face away as if avoiding a hot flame and . . . flicked her hand toward Lydia, the way you wave away an unwanted animal, or a beggar." (p. 80) Why is this so hurtful to Lydia? Were you surprised to learn the reasons for June’s actions? What were they?

7. Of Lydia, George says "though she was troubled, she was also tough in ways that let me know she’d be okay." (p. 174) Do you agree with George? Discuss Lydia’s relationship with George. Why are the two of them drawn to each other?

8. When the narrator first introduces June it is with the line "She will go." (p. 9) Does this introduction affect how you think of June? In what ways? Why is June so set on severing all ties with Wells? Do you agree with her decision to do so? Why or why not?

9. Of Lolly, Dale, her future father-in-law, says "Lolly seemed unformed to us." (p. 129) Did you get a sense of her character, and, did you think, like Dale "that despite her girlish manner, something was broken in her." (p. 210) Explain your answer. What is the effect of including Lolly’s letter to June in the story? Did it help you understand both Lolly and her relationship with June? Explain your answer.

10. George says of his son Robert that when his wife Kay would "tell me it wasn’t [his son’s] job to be interested in me, it was my job to be interested in him." (p. 170) Do you agree with Kay? What role do you think a parent should fill in his or her child’s life? Do you think that Lydia and June are good mothers to Luke and Lolly respectively? Give examples to support your answer.

11. Cissy says, "Rough as life can be, I know in my bones we are supposed to stick around and play our part." (p. 289) What part has Cissy played in the lives of those around her? Talk about the way each of the characters in Did You Ever Have a Family affects the lives of those around them. Was anything particularly surprising to you? What?

12. Who is Winton? Although Lydia distrusts him, "she’s still not ready to step away," (p. 143) she continue to take his calls. Why? What prompts Lydia to share her life story with Winston? Were you surprised by what she revealed? How do you think Winton’s presence has changed Lydia?

13. When June finds Lolly’s notebooks she remembers cataloging canvases by a deceased client and finding an old Boy Scout manual of his filled with drawings. "Very likely no one had ever seen these drawings, and she remembers having the fleeting instinct to steal the book and keep it herself." (p. 179) Why does June think about hoarding the book? Why do you think finding Lolly’s notebooks has triggered this memory for June? How does June react to Lolly’s work?

14. Almost every one in Wells has an opinion of Luke, particularly after he dies. Edith calls him "that doomed Luke Morey" (p. 28), Rick remembers him as being "too big, too handsome, too something for the likes of us" (p. 52) and many of the locals gossip that he was a "local thug." (p. 40) What did you think of Luke? Why do you think he was such a controversial figure in Wells?

15. Silas "thinks of himself as [Lydia’s] guardian, her shadow." (p. 265). Why does Silas think that Lydia needs protecting? Silas ultimately decides to tell Lydia the truth about the role he thinks that he has played in Luke’s death. What makes him confess? What is the effect on Lydia?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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