Did You Ever Have A Family, Bill Clegg
This book surely packs a wallop. It will be the rare person who will not be moved by the introspective examination of the psyches of these diverse characters as they each experienced the same horrific tragedy in their own way and worked to climb back out into the world. It should have been the best of times for all, but in a random act of fate, their destinies changed. In this story, questionable choices, carelessness and arguments spelled catastrophe for all. Havoc and misfortune rained down upon a cast of characters that should have been revelers, dancing at a wedding, but instead were either attending funerals or burying their loved ones.
When disaster struck June Reid’s life, she was 52, and after years of being single, she had finally found someone to love, Luke Morris, although he was a rather nonconforming choice. Her daughter Lolly and she had just begun to repair their broken relationship, and she was happily planning Lolly’s wedding to Mark. Suddenly, her worst nightmare occurred, life as she knew it was simply over, destroyed, and she was totally alone. Completely bereft, without any support system, engulfed in pain and sadness, she left everything behind, although not much but bills were left. She got into her car and took off without being sure of her destination. In a state of shock, for sure, she was lethargic, had no appetite, wore the same clothes day after day and she soon realized that she was tracing the path her daughter Lolly had once taken with her betrothed; it was at a time when Lolly was coming to terms with her parents’ divorce and was beginning to understand that she had labored under many misconceptions about her mother and her father’s relationship. She was beginning to realize that she had, perhaps, placed the lion’s share of blame upon her mother’s shoulders a little unfairly. It was a time when she was happy with the future in front of her, and she wanted to try and mend fences with her mom. June kept driving not knowing for sure where she was going until she wound up at the Moonstone Hotel in Moclips, the place Lolly had stayed with her fiancé. She checked in and rarely left the room until commanded to by Cissy, the wonderfully sympathetic housekeeper at the hotel, who quietly took June under her wing. She understood that June was a woman with no will to live, and although she does not know why this is, she brings her sustenance everyday, hoping to help her, since she had observed that June was surviving on practically nothing.
Some background information is pertinent. Lydia is Luke’s mother. Luke is black; she is not. He is the product of a brief fling during a time in her life when she was extremely bitter and unhappily married to an abusive husband, Earl, who left her when the child was born, as soon as he realized he was not the father. Shamed and alone, the small minded townsfolk rejected and ridiculed her afterwards. When her son Luke was arrested, although he insisted he was framed, Lydia sided with his accusers. The townspeople were only too eager to blame him, the outsider, and the son of a fallen woman. He was convicted and imprisoned. Afterwards, his relationship with his mother was understandably strained. At the time of the tragedy, Luke and Lydia were working to repair their relationship. Luke had started a landscaping company and he hired the local kids to help. One of these local kids, Silas, along with some chums, had goofed off, smoked pot instead of doing work as instructed, and Silas had forgotten his backpack containing all of his contraband and his bong at the shed at June’s house. On the evening of that day, the day that the final preparations were being made for the nuptials planned to begin the following day, he returns to retrieve it, and that backpack and an unexpected, unwitnessed act of mercy changed the future.
The circumstances around the deaths that occurred at the home of June Reid are revealed very slowly as each character is introduced and speaks in alternate chapters until the entire story is woven into a coherent pattern, and all of the characters involved in the tragedy are linked. The author connected all of the characters very plausibly, minor and major, and developed each so very well that they became truly authentic figures in the narrative, each experiencing their own personal ordeal (and they all did have one as the author covered many areas in which the human being can suffer, shining a light on the hardship, pain and loss, anger, grief and joy of life), as they worked out their own attempt at healing and moving forward in a distinctly individual way.
The author reads his own book and although he reads each word carefully, making it fully comprehensible, it was not the best choice. He reads the book in the same morose voice for each character and it was very often difficult to figure out which character was being featured, especially when it was a woman, since his tone and pitch never changed. I found only one other negative for the book and that was the inclusion of a politically correct agenda with one wronged black young man, framed for a crime he didn’t commit, spawned by a very successful black father who never knew about him but who had slept with the female housekeeper at the inn where he stayed to hold a vigil over his severely injured son, and she happened to be white. It seemed to be a portrayal of something like poetic justice with a reversal of fortunes. However, their brief encounter brought with it the unintended consequences that set the stage for the unfortunate set of circumstances that brought so much pain and distress to the major characters. I do not think that was poetic justice, but rather the unkindness and irrationality of chance. The slow roll out of the plot with its varied themes and a timeline that moved from past to present, worked well for this story that mainly concerns what happened on one particular fateful night, a night that changed everything for so many people, but what actually did happen on that night? Who was responsible for the tragic set of circumstances that suddenly unfurled? As each character suffers through their own guilt, regret, remorse and search for recovery, and the back story is told, the reader will discover the truth for him or herself.