Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg x2

The Bookies II reading group chose this book for it’s April 16 selection and because I enjoyed it so much (rating 9.25) I volunteered to do the discussion questions.  Well – I read it last September and really don’t remember all that much about it. https://beckylindroos.wordpress.com/092015-2/did-you-ever-have-a-family/

Therefore, a reread wouldn’t hurt although I certainly feel like I remember it –  otoh,  looking through the questions provided by Simon & Schuster  I wasn’t sure I could answer them very well – so –  reread time.   🙂   –  And I am SO SO glad I did.


Did You Ever Have a Family  –  x2
by Bill Clegg
2015 / 304 pages
rating –  9.5 / contemp fiction

And we’ll start with the SETTING:

Wells – a tiny old touristy town not far from Hartford, Connecticut.  The time frame is contemporary with some backstories of up to 35 years.  The town is gossipy and mostly rather close-minded.

A fire has just consumed June Reid’s home on the night before her daughter’s wedding.  Four people die in the fire.

On my first reading I was so concerned with how the fire started I didn’t have time to pay attention to the incredibly literary skill which Bill Clegg brought to this book,  his first novel.

CHARACTERS (in order of appearance):

SILAS –  opening chapter –  15-year old male neighbor to June and family – at the scene of the fire – worked for Luke Morey.

JUNE REID – leaving town after her home burns and the funeral is held.  Several members of her family die – age 52

LUKE  MOREY- died in fire – June’s boyfriend/fiance – age 30 younger and apparently of mixed race – unknown father.  Intelligent and a loner, well-liked, athletic,  some college then jail,  but now has a landscaping business. Very, very nice guy in spite of everything – loves June –

LOLLY  REID – died in fire –  June’s daughter – to be married the day after the night of the fire.

LYDIA MOREY –  Luke’s  mother – white  – raised him alone after husband kicked her out when Luke turned out to have brownish skin.  Housekeeper until Luke died.

EDITH TOBIN – florist in the touristy town of Wells (pop. about 1500)- New York? ,  – a little bitter,  grumpy but shocked by the whole thing – saw the early ruins.

ADAM REID – died in fire – June’s ex-husband
WILL ____ –  died in fire – Lolly’s fiance

RICK _______ caterer – old friend of Luke –

EARL MOREY –   Lydia’s ex husband – from a large family –
DIRK MOREY  – bad-mouthed drunk who insults Luke/June – step-brother to Luke

WINTON –  phone caller to Lydia- scammer –

********* NEW SETTING –  Moclips Washington

REBECCA-   Moonstone Motel co-owner – lesbian,  lived in Moclips 4 years – her parents have disowned her.

CISSY –  Motel maid – widowed without children,  Native American father,  cares for June

PAM –  siser of Cissy -real estate agent –

KELLY – Rebecca’s partner in life and business – co-owner.  Strong parents but they are  deceased – she’s alone except for Rebecca.

ANNETTE –  childhood friend of June’s

PENNY –  Rebecca’s old long-time friend – deceased


GEORGE KING –  black absent father of Luke Morey,  widower with difficult son – Atlanta?

DALE –  married to Mimi and father of  Will who was Lolly’s fiance  –

PRU – sister of Will


The narrative is presented in 3rd person and 1st person chapters –  the main characters of the 3rd person chapters have a lot at stake emotionally – they really aren’t available for one reason or another.  The 3rd person narrator uses present tense.   The 1st person chapters are from characters who don’t have so much at stake – they usually report in the past tense and it’s based on observations or memory.  We never hear from Lydia,  June/Jane or Silas personally  – but their memories are 3rd person present tense,  it works I thnk because they are emotionally disconnected.

The chronology is somewhat disjointed because of memory sections in present tense accounts.  This is necessary for the effect – some of these folks are drifting right on into the past as present and they are so emotionally removed they can’t do a first person –

Still,  the chronology does follow a certain logic –  there is a basic  frame story which starts with the fire and moves along with June going to and living in Washington.

The suspense builds nicely but on the first reading I really wanted to know what happened to cause the fire and missed the literary subtleties.   Even reading for the second time I noticed the increased tension/suspense (!)   A great number of elements contribute to this.   –  Great novel.

Chapters/ characters/setting/tense/
(Wells) –  Silas –  3rd person present tense with some memories – no dialogue
June –  3rd person present tense – leaving Wells- remembering – some philosophical
Edith – 1st person memories – past tense basically – observations?
Lydia –  3rd person present tense  – some memories – overhearing women –
Rick –  1st person  – memories – long-term friends with Luke –
(Moclips)   Rebecca –  1st person -memories re Cissy,  June (Jane)
(Wells)  Lydia –  3rd person – past/present -memories of life – Earl and abuse
(Road) –  June –  3rd person – present driving west –   memories of Lolly and divorce,
(M) – Rebecca – 3rd person – memories of self and loves
(Atlanta)   George  – 1st person, p/p  reporting memories –
(M) – Dale –  1st person –  reporting memories –  Pru to June “Did you ever have a family?”
(M) –  Kelly –  1st person – memories- reporting her history  and Cissy –
(W) – Lydia –  3rd person -p/p- calls from Winton won lottery – walks sees Silas
(W)  – Silas – 3rd person – present – follows Lydia – watches her – remembers –
(R) –  June –  3rd person -present   driving west – even memories are present tense  – living in memories –
(A) – George -1st person – memories –  “Our lives felt unreal and far away while we were in that motel room.”
(R) – June –  3rd person – present tense –  needs help, nice man gets her to a motel, finds Lolly’s notebooks inc.  Moonstone mentioned.
(W) Lydia – 3rd pesron – present Winton phone calls 2x day, 3 months – walking, scared of Silas,  home a woman comes and slaps her about money – talks different to Winton – living in present – “slapped out of it.”
(M) – Lolly – the letter to June Lolly wrote –
(W) – Silas – third person – he’s scared of Lydia’s reaction to him, smokes some pot – living in daydreams – wrecks on his bike and goes back to …
(R)  –  June – specifically 3rd –  remembering Lolly and Luke – driving west to Moonstone
(M)  –  Dale – 1st – remembering Will,  ashes, and finding June at Moonstone – remembering Lolly,  Lydia,  etc. they write to Lydia –
(W) – Lydia – 3rd except conversation – Lydia talks to WInton – Rex and drugs and Luke in jail -she hangs up on WInton
(W) Silas – 3rd – present – memories – goes back to the house for his backpack – is stove on?
(M) –  Cissy –  1st person memories – mixed race, childhood,  loved Will,
(W) – Silas –  3rd person – memories but present – his senses are heightened because of the pot – he hears ticking messes with stove –  all memories
(M) –  June – present tense-  memories – of the night of fire,  of engagement,  memories within memories
(W) _ Silas –  memories in present tense – remembering Lydia – then going to her house – then future tense – he will …
(airplane) – Lydia – memories and travel – Silas told her his part –
(M)-  June –  3rd – present – in motel – memories – drifting into them -before fire – ending with future tense –
(M) – Lydia –  3rd present – in taxi remembering Silas building with rocks. She finds June tells June –
(M) – Cissy –  1st person reporting – catching up,  memories,  closure –

THEMES – many overlapping and overlaid but it’s totally natural – nothing force:
–  families, grief and loss,  aloneness,  betrayal,  race,  covering up, love,  forgiveness, chance/fate (loc. 1104),  home,  connections (Amherst – Will, Rebecca)-  Indian tribes (complex – rooted/rootless) –  vulnerability  (June, Lydia, George, Luke, Rebecca)  –  small town gossip,  Parent child relationships

Rootless – June, Lydia, Rebecca, Kelly, motels –
Rootbound –  Edith, Rick, Moreys,  Cissy, George?

Moon?   Amherst?   motels and motel maids – (yikes)  Moonstone – Moonies – moons and honeymoons –
Parent child relationships –  parents don’t understand or support kids –  aren’t there for them.    June / Lolly,  Lydia/Luke (?),  George/Robert,  Dale/Will –
Silas/Robert (both kids)   use drugs for escape – fantasies are similar (dragons?)