Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Book Review: The Most Fun We Ever Had

By Melissa Amster

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.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

When The Most Fun We Ever Had first came across my radar, I thought it sounded interesting and added it to my future TBR pile. Then Jenny at Book Coffee Happy said it was one of her favorite novels and I instantly moved it into my current "pile." (I keep a list of the next five books I am going to read on my Kindle, and this is separate from my print pile.)

I agree with Jenny on a few things:
1. It was nice to read a book set in Chicago. I grew up near where Jenny lives and we went to the same high school, so we can definitely relate on this aspect.
2. It's perfect for fans of Parenthood and This is Us. Fans of these shows will appreciate that this novel features a large family and shows perspectives from the parents and their four daughters. It also goes back and forth between the past and present. The story spans from the 1970's through 2017.
3. It's long. I read it on Kindle, so I had no idea how many pages there were, but it took me longer to read than most books do on my Kindle. However, while Jenny didn't want it to end, I was actually thrilled when I finally got to the 50% mark and beyond.

Unfortunately, I don't share Jenny's enthusiasm for this novel. There were a lot of things I enjoyed about it and I thought it was incredibly well-written for a debut. I didn't feel close with the characters, but they were relatable in some ways. I liked Jonah a lot and felt he really carried the story along the most. His narrative was my favorite. Second to Jonah was Grace, who was a misfit in her own way. She didn't have as much narrative time as the other characters, so I looked forward to the morsels I got from her.

Marilyn and David reminded me of myself and my husband in some ways, like with setting the standard for relationships for our kids. They may complain when we are affectionate with other in front of them, but I'm always telling them that they are lucky their parents love each other so much and that we hope they'll find that for themselves in the future. Aside from that, I found myself referring to things that happened in the novel when talking to a friend about something related to these things. I don't want to say what they are as to not give too much away, but when my friend was talking about someone who is dating a guy who is experiencing anxiety and depression, I immediately thought of Liza's situation and relayed that to her. I also thought it was interesting to see how some of the things that were referenced by characters in the present fit in when we saw them in the past.

Overall, it was an interesting novel and the length didn't scare me off from reading it all the way through. However, there were times it felt slow to me and I wondered where it was going and how long I'd have to wait for it to get there. Yet, at other times, it was captivating and kept me turning the pages. Readers who liked Ask Again, Yes will enjoy this novel too. (And now you know how I felt about that one.) Enter for a chance to win this novel and a "family survival kit." (US only. Ends December 15th.)

Thanks to Doubleday for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Movie casting ideas (all in present time):
Marilyn: Joan Allen
David: Bryan Cranston
Liza: Teresa Palmer
Wendy: Mena Suvari
Violet: Krysten Ritter
Grace: Libe Barer
Jonah: Aedan Duckworth

1 comment:

The Book Sage said...

I'm with you on Ask Again, Yes. I gave it a 3/4, so I obviously liked it. But I was expecting more. It's a book that I wouldn't necessarily recommend.