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'Did You Ever Have a Family' by Bill Clegg: EW review

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Did You Ever Have A Family

Current Status:
In Season
Bill Clegg
Gallery/Scout Press

We gave it an A-

June Reid is the kind of woman—sleek, blond, tastefully monied—who seems like no real misfortune could ever touch her. But when a tricky old stove in her Connecticut country house leads to a terrible accident in the early-morning hours before her daughter’s wedding, the life she knows is obliterated, everything she loves gone in an instant. Did You Ever Have a Family is the first full-length foray into fiction for Bill Clegg, a literary agent-turned-memoirist (2010’s best-selling Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man), but it reads like the quietly assured work of a veteran novelist. As the walk-up to the event and its aftermath are told through the eyes of nearly a dozen narrators, the backstories of the dead and still-living come sharply into focus: June’s much younger boyfriend and his own guilt-racked mother; the recalcitrant daughter she was just beginning to reconnect with after a messy divorce; the florists and caterers and stoned local teenagers standing on the periphery. Clegg draws them all with swift resonant strokes, and uses the tragedy—from the beginning, some suspect that it wasn’t accidental at all—to unearth the old grudges and transgressions roiling beneath the small town’s placid surface. (Race and class play no small part.) A few moments in Family feel overly engineered, as if all the expertly wrought novels that have crossed Clegg’s desk as an agent taught him to calibrate for maximum emotional impact almost too well. But it’s rare to find a book that renders unimaginable loss in such an eloquent, elegant voice. A–