Monday 6 July 2020

Book Review: The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo.

Product details:
Publisher: W&N.
Hardcover, 544 pages.
Release date: June 27th 2019.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Source: Purchased.

A multigenerational novel in which the four adult daughters of a Chicago couple—still madly in love after forty years—recklessly ignite old rivalries until a long-buried secret threatens to shatter the lives they've built.

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.

A multigenerational novel spanning forty years, Claire Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had, is a perfectly observed commentary on the trivialities and complexities of family life. Inviting us into the heart of the Sorensen family, the still-happily-married-even-after-all-these-years David and Marilyn, and their four adult daughters, The Most Fun We Ever Had details the highs, lows, loves and losses that comprise everyday family life.

Few people experience the kind of love shared by David and Marilyn Sorensen. While many marriages wilt and wither with time, the same can’t be said for David and Marilyn, whose love still blossoms and blooms as the years go by. We first meet these lovebirds eyes locked, limbs entwined, at the wedding of their eldest daughter, Wendy. Wendy has married rich, and that’s a relief, since left to her own devices, Wendy is an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.

Sixteen years on, Wendy is windowed, bored, and about to foist the mother of all surprises on her sister, Violet. Irish twins, born less than a year apart, Wendy and Violet were once closer than close, but are now less so. Former litigator Violet, now a stay-at-home mom to two young boys, doesn’t really have time for boozy lunches with her older sister, but when Wendy calls, Violet does her duty and shows up. It’s the least she can do after all Wendy has been through. However, Violet did not anticipate that Wendy would invite Jonah, the son Violet gave up for adoption fifteen years previously, along to their lunch. Nobody knows about Jonah. Not even Violet’s parents.  Especially not them. Why would Wendy try to ruin her life like this?

Third daughter Liza is winning at life. Or so her everybody thinks. A newly tenured professor, Liza is a certified success. She should be on top of the world. Only she’s not. Her long-term relationship is on life-support and she’s just discovered she’s pregnant, an Oops! baby if ever there was one. It’s all too much for Liza, who instead of dealing with her problems, instead decides to embark on an affair with a colleague. Because that’ll fix things. 

At least David and Marilyn can rely on their youngest daughter, Grace, to never cause them any worry. Born a whole nine years after Liza, sweet-natured Grace is doted on and indulged by her loving parents, to whom she’ll always be the baby. Too bad then that loving, uncomplicated Grace has been lying to her parents this whole time…

Along with detailing the various crises of the Sorensen daughters, The Most Fun We Ever Had also rewinds to the early days of David and Marilyn’s relationship as it details the events that brought them together and one time almost split them apart. Personally, I could take or leave some of the Sorensen girls; Violet is unlikeable, especially in dealings with Jonah, who is otherwise welcomed with open arms into the Sorensen fold, while Grace is wishy-washy. Wendy, though, quick-witted, spiteful, and in favour of a mid-morning gin, I loved. Also, Wendy’s story is the most compelling here touched, as she is, more than once by tragedy. 

If you enjoy a good family saga – and especially if you grew up with sisters – The Most Fun We Ever Had is a worthy addition to your book pile. It is lengthy at 500+ pages and a little wordy at times, but it is nonetheless an enjoyable, heart-warming, wonderfully observed read. It’s a book I think will transfer well to screen, and I’m excited for the soon-to-be HBO adaptation, to which Amy Adams and Laura Dern are attached.

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