Friday, January 8, 2016

A New Year to Read Around the World

It's here! 2016. What will the literary gods bring us this year? I'll be on the inside track in May when I attend Book Expo America in Chicago. In the meantime I'll be catching up on recommendations from the past years while trying to stay in keeping with the international theme of this blog - reading books set all around the world.

Of the four books that I've already finished in the first eight days of the new year I must first talk with you about one of last year's most touted novels.
At first the cynical Sally thought that all the buzz was simply a case of insider privilege. Mr. Clegg is a well-known literary agent with a great reputation. Who knew that while he was promoting the books of others he was quietly struggling with his own work of art?
What I find most surprising about Clegg's novel is that, even though it revolves around a horrific tragedy in a small Connecticut town, it is not in the least bit a depressing read. Perhaps this is because the explosion that destroys June Reid's home, killing everyone she's ever cared for, happens immediately, before we get to know the characters for ourselves.
As a reader, I felt that the catastrophe was almost too overwhelming to get my head around, and I sensed that Mr. Clegg's intention was not to focus on the deaths but on the excruciating effect on those left behind. Most of us have suffered the protracted illness and eventual death of a person dear to us. We come to accept this as the natural progression of life. But to lose everyone in a single, meaningless moment?
As the characters slowly reveal themselves in short vignettes of interior monologue we learn of the intricate threads that tie each of them to each other. Clegg proves the John Donne truth that "no man is an island."
June's tragedy is that she has been guilty of hurting many people over the course of her life and has yet to fully reconcile with her daughter Lolly, her lover Luke, her former husband Adam, all now gone. It is this guilt and the concomitant shame that drives her away from any offers of help. She doesn't believe she deserves to live among others. Her exile to the west coast is self-imposed and is necessary if she is ever to recover enough to re-engage with the world.
"Did You Ever Have a Family" is deceptively simple, a quick, easy read, but one that left me thoughtfully pondering for days after closing the cover. Clegg, who has written about his struggles with addiction, and his break and reconciliation with his father, ("Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man")has found in this novel another way to share with readers his complex take on the dichotomy between the difficulty of, and our ultimate redemption from, human interconnectedness.  

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