Beautiful in the saddest ways, Did You Ever Have a Family is a sweeping yet particular novel, examining grief and trauma and how they intersect and coalesce in different people with different histories and relationships. Its writing is sparse but potent, its emotional beats all the more powerful because they are unornamented. There’s such an unmitigated sense of melancholy running throughout this story, an emptiness at the immensity of the loss that these characters have suffered. Yet it’s not a completely hopeless novel either. If Clegg is clear about anything, it is that just as loss alienates, it also connects.
One criticism: I felt that some of the passages about the women in this novel were really gratuitous, especially in their violence and objectification. Out of nowhere, you find out that one of the characters’ lesbian friends–who was in a happy relationship, by the way–was raped and killed while she was sleeping in the safety of her own home. Raped and killed? In the middle of a happy relationship? While she was sleeping in her own house? It irritated me that, in killing off a minor character, Clegg chose to have her be raped and killed while she was sleeping. Is this kind of horrific death necessary? Why not just have her die in a car crash or something? Another thing was that one of the characters, Silas, constantly objectified women. I know he’s a teenage boy and all but, again, to what extent are passages about him imagining women naked and staring at their “ass” (“That ass! He’s spellbound by the metronomic perfection of its movement and thinks, This is no mom’s ass”) and curve of their breasts really necessary to this story?