That’s What She Read: Did You Ever Have a Family? by Bill Clegg

“Did You Ever Have a Family” is the story of June Reid, the sole survivor of a terrible tragedy: her boyfriend, her daughter and her daughter’s fiancée, who happened to be June’s ex-husband, all perish in a roaring fire the night before her daughter’s wedding.

June’s entire family is gone in minutes, and her home destroyed. This tragedy poses several questions that form the basis of the story: how can someone possibly move on from losses like these? How on earth did June survive? What caused the terrible fire? Why wasn’t there an investigation into the cause of the fire?

Slowly and quietly, this absorbing novel examines each character who played a part in the tragic event—from Silas, a teenage boy employed by June’s boyfriend to do yard work, to the owners of a small motel on the Pacific, where June ends up staying. The story is pieced together in flashbacks, with a word or phrase dropped here, or a tiny detail remembered there. These fragments layer together, and as we meet more of the character’s families, the bits and pieces of the truth start to coalesce.

The result is a mesmerizing page-turner that grabs you and never lets you go. Each off-hand and seemingly random bit of information about June and her doomed family could be, and often is, vital to understanding what happened.

This is a masterful, finely crafted and amazingly intricate novel that explores with heartbreaking simplicity what it means to love, to have a family, to belong to a community…and how we can move on and rebuild after losing everything we have. As I grow older, there are fewer and fewer books I feel as if I have to own (as I have less and less shelf space) but this is a novel I will most certainly buy, reread and recommend.