The Most Fun We Ever Had – Claire Lombardo

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“Ambitious and brilliantly written.”–Jane Smiley, The Washington Post

“Outstanding…[the] literary love child of Jonathan Franzen and Anne Tyler.”–The Guardian

“Everything about this brilliant debut cuts deep: the humor, the wisdom, the pathos. Claire Lombardo writes like she’s been doing it for a hundred years, and like she’s been alive for a thousand.”–Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers

When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that’s to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she’s not sure she wants by a man she’s not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents’.

As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt–given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption fifteen years before–we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons’ past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment, but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.

Spanning nearly half a century, and set against the quintessential American backdrop of Chicago and its prospering suburbs, Lombardo’s debut explores the triumphs and burdens of love, the fraught tethers of parenthood and sisterhood, and the baffling mixture of affection, abhorrence, resistance, and submission we feel for those closest to us. In painting this luminous portrait of a family’s becoming, Lombardo joins the ranks of writers such as Celeste Ng, Elizabeth Strout, and Jonathan Franzen as visionary chroniclers of our modern lives.

Review by Alexandra

On the surface, this is a story about Marilyn Connolly, David Sorenson, and their four daughters Wendy, Violet, Liza, and Grace. But The Most Fun We Ever Had, debut novel by the inimitable Claire Lombardo, is anything but surface level.

At its core, this is a deeply moving, heart-achingly powerful ode to our families of origin and the ways in which they forever shape—or, at the very least, anchor—the unfolding narratives of our lives. Spanning several decades from the girls’ childhood to adulthood, the story explores the profound ways in which their parents’ seemingly idyllic marriage shaped the dreams and expectations they developed for their own lives and relationships. Touching on such issues as fertility, mental health, addiction, infidelity, death, and loss, Lombardo bares all this family’s secrets as if to remind us that maybe the most “perfect” families are the messiest ones, full of challenges, chaos, and uncertainty despite—and alongside—all the fun there is to be grateful for.

My favourite part of this story, and perhaps the hidden pulse woven throughout it, is Lombardo’s deep and powerful meditation on the ultimate paradox of what it means to be (part of) a family: its promise of impenetrable, unconditional love that can be at once soul-stirring and suffocating. She captures with utmost intimacy the quiet moments of pause, defeat, reflection, and reverie in each character’s life. Indeed, as we go on this journey with the Sorensons, we cannot help but recall such moments in our own lives; those we so often feel but cannot put into words, those that make us human and who we are.

What are your thoughts on the book?

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