Review: Claire Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had
by Lauren Arzbaecher
We all have family. People who will be there for us through the ups and downs of life. Yet, no family is perfect. And sometimes, our siblings and other family members are the people who can hurt us most. Claire Lombardo’s debut novel The Most Fun We Ever Had tackles the complex notion of family with all its imperfections.
On July 9th, Prairie Lights was the fullest I’ve seen it, listeners both standing in the back and taking spots on the floor near the front. After graduating from the Writers’ Workshop in 2017, Lombardo has continued to enrich the local literary community as a creative writing professor at the university and a fiction teacher at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. Friends, former students, and community members all came out to support the novel.
The novel centers around the lives of Marilyn and David Sorenson, from the lusty early years of their relationship in the 1970s to the present timeline of 2016 where they are grappling with ongoing turbulence between their four daughters Grace, Wendy, Violet, and Liza. Each of the daughters are facing their own plight: Wendy, an outspoken widow who drowns out her worries with alcohol; Violet, a stay-at-home mother obsessed with creating the perfect life; Liza, newly pregnant and unsure of her feelings about the baby or the father; and Grace, the youngest daughter who starts living a lie unbenounced to the rest of the family. The arrival of Jonah Bendt, a son given up for adoption by a twenty year old Violet, throws the family into a state of unrest that directs the course of tumultuous events throughout the rest of the novel.
The narrative flows effortlessly between past and present with flashbacks to a younger Marilyn and David amidst the present plotline. Lombardo said during the reading that she didn’t plan to have flashbacks in the book when she first started to write, but instead wrote the flashbacks as an exercise to understand the characters further, and fell in love with David and Marilyn’s story. As the story takes the reader deeper into the parent’s courtship, the implications of their relationship on the present family dynamic become extremely poignant.
Interactions range from cutting to tender, painting a familial landscape that is both intricate and familiar. Real emotions are filtered through dialogue, certain statements meaning nothing to one character and everything to another. Cattiness is used almost as a currency between the sisters, every chapter chock full of snarky comments and subtle judgements, all of which had me thinking of my relationships with my own siblings. This connection with the reader is where the story finds its deepest power. Lombardo shines a light on the private life of one family while opening a lens onto the family of the reader. Through sisterly jabs, overly loving parents, unplanned pregnancy, and countless other familial darmatics, The Most Fun We Ever Had enters into the knotty world of family life and comes out with an honest and provoking picture of our closest relationships.