The Most Fun We Ever Had
By Claire Lombardo
Read Feb 2022
Lombardo’s long (~550pages) debut novel is a winner in this reader’s opinion. It’s a family saga covering about four decades in the lives of Marilyn Connelly and David Sorenson and their children. Marilyn and David meet in 1975 in Chicago when both are undergraduates (making them contemporaries of this reader). When David learns that he’s been accepted to medical school in Iowa, he proposes marriage to Marilyn and she accepts. She intends to finish her undergraduate degree in Iowa but loss of credits in the transfer process, loneliness as David is consumed in his studies and she knows no one, and ultimately a pregnancy ahead of their schedule mean Marilyn drops out of college. Her career as homemaker/mother is solidified when their second daughter arrives less than a year after the first.
The “Irish twins” Wendy and Violet are clearly sisters—both best friends and fierce competitors– and as different as can be imagined. Wendy is caustic, turbulent, seemingly strong but tending towards self-destructive. Wendy refuses to go to college, moves out of the house, meets the love of her life whom she marries and loses him to cancer at a young age after their son dies as a baby. Violet is a type-A personality who gets her law degree, marries another lawyer, has two children, has a seemingly perfect life, but suffers from depression. Violet’s lack of appreciation for the apparent wonderfulness of her life infuriates Wendy whose life has been so disrupted by the deaths of her baby and husband. Younger sister Liza has a long-term partner who is in a very deep state of depression. Liza becomes pregnant and her partner leaves her when he learns she’s had an affair. Nine years after Liza’s birth Marilyn and David decide to take another spin at parenthood and generate Grace whose nickname evolves from “gosling” to “goose” as she grows up although she feels no one in the family will ever realize she’s become an adult. The daughters are convinced their parents have a perfect marriage and that they can never attain such perfection in their own lives. Actually, while David and Marilyn have an enviable relationship, it is, of course, far from perfect.
Wendy and Violet share a special secret. When Violet found herself pregnant, Wendy took her in and helped her hide from the family during her pregnancy. Fifteen years later, Violet’s son comes into the family’s life providing an interesting view into the family and the relationships between the various members of it.
The structure of the book is interesting if complex. The author shifts back and forth in time and between various characters as she gives their perspective on various events/scenes in their lives. The story of David and Marilyn’s relationship is the only thing told chronologically; the author heads these chapters with the dates that the chapter covers. The complexity of the structure and the varying points of view emphasizes the complexity of the life of any family. No two children have the same childhood, even when they are separated in age by less than a year, and especially when they are separated in age by over a decade. The parents’ persona each vary by year and even by month with respect to their level of exhaustion from caring for their children, their home, their work, and their own relationship with each other. The author captures this evolution with accuracy despite her own relative youth. Being the “gosling” in her own family likely gave her some help in depicting this.
The author beautifully captures some great parenting moments. One in particular is the scene when Violet questions her mother about her decision to leave college, a possibility Violet can’t fathom; Marilyn’s responses are not satisfactory to Violet. This scene so nicely highlights that many of the choices we face in life aren’t the ones we anticipated having but they are the ones we have and we have to make decisions nonetheless.
This debut novel is long, but so nicely done that this reader didn’t mind the length at all. This author was reminded of Anne Patchett in her ability to draw the reader into the lives of her characters so that the reader enjoyed every word spent with them. This reader was well satisfied with the author’s approach to the book’s closure. This reader hopes that Lombardo’s next offering is as rich and beautifully textured.