cover image Did You Ever Have a Family

Did You Ever Have a Family

Bill Clegg. S&S/Scout, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9817-2

In this sorrowful and deeply probing debut novel, literary agent and memoirist Clegg (Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man) delivers a story of loss and its grueling aftermath. The story opens with an unimaginable tragedy: a Connecticut house is consumed by fire in the wee hours before a wedding. The bride's mother, June, is the only survivor. Everyone else%E2%80%94Lolly, June's daughter, with whom she had a strained relationship; June's womanizing ex-husband, Adam; June's ex-con boyfriend Luke, 20 years her junior; and Lolly's fianc%C3%A9, Will%E2%80%94all die in the blaze. But where was June when the explosion occurred? Clegg pieces the mystery together through the voices of his characters. There's Luke's lonely, scandal-courting mother, Lydia, who shoulders secrets about her son; 15-year-old Silas, a stoner who was the last to see Luke, with June, the night before he died. And there's Rebecca, Kelly, and Cissy%E2%80%94caretakers of the Moonstone motel in Moclips, Wash., where June holes up for nine months after the fire and wastes away. The conclusion of the family's narrative is foregone: due to the fire, everyone ends up dead or alone. But it's Clegg's deft handling of all the parsed details%E2%80%94missed opportunities, harbored regrets, and unspoken good intentions%E2%80%94that make the journey toward redemption and forgiveness so memorable. (Sept.)