Book Review | The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

The Most Fun We Ever Had is an expansive, immersive look at a suburban, midwestern family over the span of almost five decades. David and Marilyn meet in college, get married, and somewhere along the way find themselves with four daughters; Wendy, strong-willed, witty, resilient; Violet, dedicated, stubborn, straight-laced; Liza, intelligent, introspective, likeable, and Grace, the baby of the family, who is still struggling to find her place in it all.

The world at large is largely absent from this novel, which is very much an interior look at a life without the interference of political, geographical or social concerns. That comes in part, no doubt, from being white, middle-class and monied, and so in a privileged position to distance yourself from external concerns. But this isn’t a criticism of the novel; it’s clear that the lack of a world beyond their own is very much a deliberate choice, and a choice that allows us to take a deep dive into their family life. Lombardo writes with such profound insight on the dynamics of families and particularly the bonds between sisters, but also between couples and parents and their children.

David and Marilyn are, in the eyes of their children – and of those around them – an untouchable couple. Profoundly in love, steadfastly committed over the decades, they set an impossible ideal for their daughters. Lombardo writes about their commitment to each other with such introspective, tender insight, that although it is a narrative trope that is mentioned numerous times throughout the novel, you never get tired of hearing about it.

‘He knew from that second that he would love their children with an inexpressible ferocity. And it only became easier, surprisingly, when they emerged from the womb and started to grow into little people. But he loved Marilyn more. He’d accepted this early on. Each one of his children was a singular, baffling miracle, a joy, an utter delight. But they came from Marilyn.’

But over the course of the novel, whilst their unwavering love for each other remains just that, we come to know it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Life happens in all of its messiness – miscommunications, disconnects, outside temptations. The Sorensons are perhaps an ideal couple, but they have been through tumultuous and testing times.

Lombardo transitions between different third-person perspectives of all the protagonists, which at first was hard to get used to, but as you learn more about the characters, it feels almost seamless. The girls – now young women – talk with candour about crafting a path for themselves in adulthood, while the seemingly untenable ideal of their parent’s love is never far behind them. Over the course of the novel, everyone undergoes their own struggle, struggles that we are privy to through intricate and profound detail.

‘Perhaps all of these moments had to be orchestrated. Perhaps all that adulthood was was repeatedly going through the motions, trying out different arrangements and occasionally landing in cinematic tableaus such as this one.’

This is an epic book, at over 500 pages long, and it feels long, but in a good way. This isn’t a pacy, plot-driven narrative. There isn’t any grit, or twists and turns. But it is nuanced, emotional, and expansive. It’s an impressive debut, that’s for sure. You’ll end the novel feeling like you’ve known this family all your life.

‘It was striking how much less alone that could make you feel, because of course to be peopled at all was a high-order gift, but to find people beyond your people was nothing short of miraculous, finding a person away from home who felt like home and shifted, subsequently, the very notion of home, widening its borders.’

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