The Most Fun We Ever Had (*) is at once a family saga and a life lesson on relationships of all sorts and how to love. I am kinda amazed that this is a debut novel because the writing seems extremely layered for someone’s first published effort.
It’s a long yet engaging read into the lives of the Sorenson family over nearly four decades. Claire Lombardo tells her story with a sharp eye on family dynamics and a nuanced portrayal of the ties that bind us. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and definitely look forward to reading more books from the author.
At the center of The Most Fun We Ever Had are David and Marilyn Sorenson, a happily married couple of 40-odd years, parents to four daughters whose lives are in various states of disarray.
The oldest daughter, Wendy, is grieving the unfortunate loss of her husband and a miscarriage. She drowns her sorrows with alcohol and an acerbic tongue. The second daughter, Violet, who used to be a high flying lawyer, is now a stay-at-home mom, trying desperately to appear in perfect control of her domestic life, even in the face of old secrets that come back to haunt her.
The third daughter, Liza, is on the one hand, celebrating becoming a tenured professor, while on the other, she’s dealing with a depressive partner. She has a baby on the way, and she doesn’t know how to deal anymore. Lastly, the baby of the family, Grace, the only one who steps out of the family bubble, ends up living a life of lies after failing to get accepted to law school.
The book prods into the lives of the Sorensons after a new member comes into their lives – Jonah Bendt, a child placed for adoption by one of the daughters fifteen years before. In doing so, we’re taken along the meandering journey of the family and its members – from Marilyn and David’s early loving days to the ways in which their present day lives are upturned with the entry of Jonah.
The Most Fun We Ever Had is one of those multi-generational family sagas that I love so much. It did take me a while to get into, and all the time jumps and POV jumps initially had me feeling a bit all over the place, but once I settled in, I could not wait to see how the lives of all the characters play out.
There’s not too much happening by way of plot – the big reveal about Jonah happens fairly early in the book. So you’re left with mostly the characters to drive the story forward. Or rather, backward. We dip back into Marilyn and David’s early married life, the girls’ childhood and teenage years at random, seemingly as a plot device to lead to the “how did we end up here” present reality.
With all the time spent in the past, which was some parts engaging and some parts boring (as I’d say is real life), I was often left wondering what was the point of all this. Until the last one-third of the book. To me, it all sort of starts to come together then. That’s not to say some big event happens (well, okay, something does happen, but no spoilers here!), it’s just that you’ve lived with the characters long enough by now to start understanding the answers to the “how did we end up here” question.
At the heart of it, it’s a story of love, and how we maintain the many loves of our lives over time. Love between a couple, love between a parent and a child, sibling love, romantic love, and also, the loves that we choose to not pursue.
It’s also a story about how we deal with our adult selves and the consequences of our actions, and how frightening it can all be, especially when faced with tough circumstances. There’s a passage in the book that I thought was so on point about adulthood:
“The thing that nobody warned you about adulthood was the number of decisions you’d have to make, the number of times you’ve have to depend on unreliable gut to point you in the right direction, the number of times you’d still feel like an eight-year-old, waiting for your parents to step in and save you from peril.”
The book dives deep, very deep into David and Marilyn’s relationship and how it impacts the girls from a young age. You’d think having parents who are hopelessly in love with each other could only be a good thing for kids. But as the girls reveal to Marilyn later on the book, that while “it made for a wonderful childhood”, in their adult lives, “it feels like a pretty fucking insurmountable bar to reach”.
I thought it was fascinating that the book chose to shine the light so hard on David and Marilyn’s love, because it’s not often that we find stories where parents unapologetically love each other more than they love their children. It made for a refreshing change for sure.
For the most part, the Sorensons seem to be living in a certain kind of vacuum. There are hardly any friends, or other relationships referenced to outside of family and a stray work colleague or so. Which is probably why most other characters in the book, apart from the Sorenson family members, appear somewhat broad-brush painted and stereotypical (especially Ryan, Liza’s partner).
Claire Lombardo manages to beautifully capture and convey the many nuances of dysfunctional family dynamics, without delving into unnecessary histrionics. In fact, even when dealing with Marilyn’s (hinted) post partum depression, she makes you feel her despair acutely, even by writing about it in a rather matter-of-fact manner.
Overall, The Most Fun We Ever Had (Amazon USA | Amazon India)* is a brilliant, if meandering, portrayal of family ties, with a sharp eye for dialogue and an acute understanding of familial and sibling relationships. In case it wasn’t clear, I really enjoyed the book, and the story has stayed with me even weeks after I’ve read it. It’s a departure from the usual light fare that I tend to favour, so it definitely made for a nice change of pace. A solid 4/5 from my side.
SOME MORE THOUGHTS
- Does love like Marilyn and David truly exist? That too, after some spending nearly four decades with each other? This is not, I love her/him because we’ve been together for so long, but rather, such an active form of loving. It makes me hopeful, but I wonder if I am setting myself up for lifelong disappointment, much like how the sisters feel.
- Did the book really need to be over 500 pages long? Yes, it’s a family saga and there are seven POVs, but surely some bits could have been cut down.
- The book needed a better editor. Not just because of the length, but because of one too many it’s-2019-stop-saying-shit-like-that instances. Like, sitting “Indian style”, “he looks like a school shooter”, “fucked up kid with Aspergers”. Nope, none of this is cute or necessary.
- Damn, Wendy and Violet can be catty as hell! But as much as I enjoyed the portrayal of David and Marilyn’s relationship, it was fun seeing the relationship between the sisters evolve. After all, their sisterhood was the one thing that they had which was beyond their ties with their parents or their parents’ relationship.
- The voices that I loved the most were David’s and Jonah’s. How was Jonah only 15 years old? He seemed like an old soul, probably a reflection of the circumstances that he grows up in. I think Grace’s voice was the least heard in the narrative, and I thought her story was least etched out among the sisters.
Have you read this book? Did it enjoy it? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!
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